The weather at Yellowstone National Park on May 9 was fairly temperate: The low was 39 degrees Fahrenheit; the high was 50.
Nevertheless, when two tourists saw a baby bison, they decided it looked cold and needed to be rescued. So they loaded it in the trunk of their car and drove it to a ranger station.
Over the weekend, their action was widely mocked online as evidence of extreme anthropomorphism, not to mention stupidity. On Monday, the park revealed that it was also deadly — for the bison. The newborn calf had to be euthanized, the park said in a statement, because its mother had rejected it as a result of the “interference by people.”
“Park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed,” the park said. “The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.”
The bison’s death was the latest in a seemingly unending parade of incidents that underscore the foolishness of approaching, feeding, taking selfies with — or, in this case, trying to help — wildlife. The park’s statement emphasized that these interactions can be dangerous and illegal, and it condemned recent viral videos of people approaching bison at perilously close distances, as seen in this video:
A father and son transported the bison calf in the trunk of a Toyota Sequoia to a ranger station in the park’s northeast corner, according to a witness who spoke to the East Idaho News. Idaho resident Karen Richardson, who was chaperoning a fifth-grade field trip to Yellowstone, told the website that the pair were “demanding to speak with a ranger.”
“They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying,” said Richardson, who took a photo of the calf in the tourists’ trunk.
Another parent, Rob Heusevelet, told the website that he warned the tourists that their rescue attempt might run afoul of park regulations, but “they didn’t care,” he said. “They sincerely thought they were doing a service and helping that calf by trying to save it from the cold.”
Charissa Reid, a Yellowstone spokeswoman, said in an interview Monday that the tourists found the bison in the middle of a road and tried, unsuccessfully, to make it move.
“Out of desperation,” she said, they took it to rangers. “They were just concerned about the well-being of the animal.”
Bison calves typically nurse for at least seven months. Reid said she did not know how old the deceased calf was, but she said it was “certainly dependent on mother’s milk.” Park officials did not consider feeding the calf until it was able to feed on grass, she said, in part because it’s not terribly unusual that calves separated from their mothers starve to death or are killed by predators.
“In Yellowstone, it’s not a zoo,” Reid said. “We don’t manage for individuals; we manage for ecosystems.”
About 4,900 bison, which recently became America’s national mammal, live in Yellowstone. Park regulations require visitors to stay at least 25 yards, or about 75 feet, away from all wildlife, including bison, and 100 yards from wolves and bears.
Reid said the tourists had been given a ticket for $110, and the National Parks’ Investigative Service is considering further charges.