In a video of a Yellowstone visitor petting a full-grown bison, the person behind the camera asks pretty understandable question.
“Is she stupid?”
Park officials don’t know who the bison-petting visitor is or what she was thinking, but they are more than a little surprised that she survived the encounter unscathed.
She may not escape the wrath of the Yellowstone National Park Service, however, Public Affairs Spokeswoman Amy Bartlett told KTRK. The woman broke park regulations and for that, she could face a fine or worse.
“When (people) harass wildlife, they could face a citation or a mandatory appearance in front of a federal magistrate. We don’t restrict animal movements in the parks. (Everyone) still need(s) to keep the minimum distance.”
The rule the Yellowstone visitor broke — on opening day, no less — when petting the creature is in place for her and everyone else’s safety. Tourists are not allowed to approach animals, no matter how placid they may seem. The minimum distance for elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, coyotes, and bison is 25 yards. It’s 100 yards for bears and wolves.
According to the Cody Enterprise, the petting incident riled the nerves of park officials because last year, five selfie-taking visitors were gored by bison. The first attack occurred in May, meaning Yellowstone would’ve broken a rather morbid record if this petting incident had take a horrible turn.
— Whitney Bermes (@wabermes) April 21, 2016
In a video taken from a distance by unknown fellow tourists (who accuse the woman of being stupid and antagonizing the animal), the person can be seen strolling along a paved path in the Geyser Basin area. Relaxing in the grass along the pathway is the bison.
She stops in front it and reaches out a hand. Soon, she can be seen petting its enormous noggin. The bison raises its head at one point, but doesn’t touch her. She then walks away. This is even more miraculous when one considers that the animals are unpredictable and dangerous, and can run three times faster than a human can sprint.
Another visitor reported the petting to a roving interpretive ranger nearby. Since he’s not law enforcement, the most he could do was lecture her, which he reportedly did. Bartlett said the ranger should’ve called 911, but took no further action.
The visitor never left the path, but that doesn’t matter. The spokeswoman said she should’ve backed off: “You still give it the distance. You need to turn around.”
Rancher Troy Westre is something of a bison whisperer. His animals are pretty tame compared to those who live at Yellowstone, but he told NBC Montana that he knows when one is ticked off.
— Yellowstone Insider (@ystoneinsider) April 19, 2016
Their first warning is a “half-cocked tail.”
“The more mad they get the higher (the tail) goes, straight up. But they’ll shake their head and that means you’re too close. The wild is bred into them.”
The rules aren’t strict enough, in his opinion, and the 25-yard guideline is frequently disobeyed anyway.
“If I was running Yellowstone you wouldn’t be able to get out of your car during calving season,” he said. Westre. “The other time is during breeding season. That’s when the bulls will get you, because they don’t want you anywhere near the cow they’re courting.”
Bartlett thinks this visitor was so lucky because the park just opened and the animal hasn’t been annoyed very much by selfie-taking visitors yet. And if the experience gets noted in its memory as an unpleasant encounter, someone else may suffer the consequences.
“His tolerance levels hadn’t been tested yet. The next person that walks by that bison, he might charge that person.”
[Photo by Abeselom Zerit/Shutterstock]