In a heartbreaking decision no wildlife officer wants to make, Yellowstone National Park euthanized a newborn bison after a visitor handled the calf in a misguided attempt to rescue it when it became separated from its mother.
Officials said an unidentified man scooped up the baby bison on May 20 after watching it fall behind the herd, which had just crossed the Lamar River.
“As the calf struggled, the man pushed the calf up from the river and onto the roadway,” the park explained in a statement. “Visitors later observed the calf walk up to and follow cars and people.”
Park rangers tried to repeatedly reunite the calf with the herd, but failed. Then, the herd abandoned the calf, which officials said gave the park no choice but to kill the baby bison because it was was approaching cars and people along the roadway thereby creating a “hazardous situation.”
“The unfortunate incident where the man intentionally disturbed the calf resulted in the death of the calf,” the park added.
(News Release) Yellowstone law enforcement officers investigate incident of a man intentionally disturbing a bison calf; incident results in death of calf. Visitors: Respect wildlife by giving them room to roam. More: https://t.co/A8mJc9WeaR— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) May 23, 2023
Photo courtesy / Hellen Jack pic.twitter.com/qpiFmYFaKP
The park is now being criticized for its decision to euthanize the calf.
Officials explained that it’s against the law to ship this animal outside of the national park unless it’s for meat or research purposes, and any quarantine period in order to do so would be impossible in an animal this young.
“It’s important to understand that national parks are very different than animal sanctuaries or zoos,” the park explained in the days that followed. We made the choice we did not because we are lazy, uncaring, or inexpert in our understanding of bison biology. We made the choice we did because national parks preserve natural processes.”
Yellowstone called it part of the “cycle of life,” adding that as many as one quarter of the bison calves born this spring will die. But those carcasses go on to provide food for other animals such as bears and wolves to birds and bugs.
“Allowing this cycle of life to play out aligns most closely with the stewardship responsibility entrusted to us by the American people,” officials added. “Unfortunately, the calf’s behavior on roads and around people was hazardous, so rangers had to intervene: but the calf’s body was left on the landscape.”
For those asking why we didn’t send the calf to a wildlife sanctuary. pic.twitter.com/4sxZXGD598— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) May 23, 2023
Information about the unidentified white male in his 40s or 50s, wearing a blue shirt and black pants is now being sought by park officials.
Anyone in the Lamar Valley that night who could help this investigation is asked to contact the Yellowstone National Park tip line at 307-344-2132 or YELL_Tip@nps.gov.
Main photo: Yellowstone National Park/Hellen Jack