The baby bison that had to be put to death at Yellowstone National Park in May after tourists loaded it in the trunk of their car was not the first one to die after human interference tore apart its family.
A similarly misguided rescue effort at Badlands National Park resulted in the death of a bison calf — only this time, it was a wildlife expert who was at fault. And the acting park superintendent approved the intervention, an investigation by the National Park Service’s watchdog disclosed this week.
The report from Interior Department Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said a supervisory natural resource specialist at the South Dakota park spotted a sickly calf by itself, somewhere on the property in May 2010.
The employee decided to take the animal home, presumably to care for it. But the bison later died, in all likelihood of whatever was ailing it in the park.
The decision to remove the animal from its habitat broke federal law, state law and Park Service policy, which prohibits interfering with wildlife, never mind taking an animal home. But the grave mistake by a park employee who should have known better was only made worse when the acting park superintendent at the time authorized the bison’s removal.
The local police chief did not cite the natural resource specialist for what would have been a misdemeanor violation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined prosecution, the inspector general’s office said in an investigative summary of the case released Wednesday.
The report does not say whether the manager or acting superintendent were disciplined by the Park Service.
Park Service spokeswoman Christine Powell said in a statement that the park is “reviewing the report.”
“We appreciate the Office of the Inspector General bringing these issues to our attention,” she wrote.
At Yellowstone, the tourists may not have known better when they saw a baby bison and decided it looked cold and needed to be rescued. They loaded the animal in the trunk of their car and drove it to a ranger station.
But the newborn calf had to be euthanized, Yellowstone officials said, because its mother had rejected it as a result of the “interference by people.” Had the Badlands bison survived, it likely would have met the same fate.
The tourists were fined $110 for violating park regulations and their action was widely mocked online.
Many humans who visit national parks — and apparently, some who work in the parks — tend to want to approach, feed, take selfies with or help rescue wildlife. But park officials warn us over and over that these interactions can be dangerous and are illegal.
Since 1980, bison have been responsible for more animal-caused injuries to pedestrians in Yellowstone than any other species, including wolves and grizzly bears, our colleague Karin Brulliard has reported.