A bison calf that two tourists loaded into their SUV to save—they thought it was cold and starving—is now dead, after being euthanized by park officials when it proved impossible to return the newborn to its herd in Yellowstone National Park.
“In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous, and illegal behavior with wildlife,” the National Park Service said in a statement on May 16. “These actions endanger people and have now resulted in the death of a newborn bison calf.”
The tragedy began with the best of intentions. The father and son have not been named, but chaperones of a fifth-grade field trip told EastIdahoNews.com that on Monday May 9 the two tourists pulled up to the nearby ranger station with the calf in the back of their vehicle.
“They were demanding to speak with a ranger,” parent Karen Richardson told EastIdahoNews.com. “They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying.”
The father of another student advised them to take the bison out.
“They didn’t care,” Rob Heusevelet told the news site. “They sincerely thought they were doing a service and helping that calf by trying to save it from the cold.”
Here’s what happened instead: When the rangers did arrive, they were law enforcement officers, and they ticketed the duo, EastIdahoNews.com reported. Then they all brought the calf back to where they had first grabbed it, and released it. However, by that time it was too late for the days-old animal. The entire exercise not only ended tragically for the calf, but also could have gotten the humans themselves injured or killed, park officials said in a statement.
“Last week, visitors were cited for placing a newborn bison calf in their vehicle and transporting it to a park facility because of their misplaced concern for the animal's welfare,” Yellowstone National Park said in a statement posted to its Facebook page. “In terms of human safety, this was a dangerous activity because adult animals are very protective of their young and will act aggressively to defend them.”
And then, of course, the opposite can happen, and it did. Tainted by its interaction with the humans, the young animal was rejected by the herd. Then it became a safety hazard.
“In addition, interference by people can cause mothers to reject their offspring,” the NPS said. “In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.”
Numerous people asked on social media why the calf could not be taken to a zoo or sanctuary. The NPS explained that too.
“In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis,” the NPS said. “No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.”
The NPS reiterated its oft-given warnings to visitors interacting with wildlife: Don’t.
“Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in this case, their survival,” the NPS said in its statement. “Park regulations require that you stay at least 25 yards (23 meters) away from all wildlife (including bison, elk and deer) and at least 100 yards (91 meters) away from bears and wolves.”