A well-intentioned tourist who came to the rescue of a young bison calf last weekend in Yellowstone National Park unwittingly caused its death, according to the National Park Service.
The man saw the newborn animal struggling in an area of northern Wyoming where the Lamar River joins with Soda Butte Creek, according to an NPS news release Tuesday.
“As the calf struggled, the man pushed the calf up from the river and onto the roadway,” the release said. “Visitors later observed the calf walk up to and follow cars and people.”
The young animal survived the perilous river crossing but was now in a new form of danger without its mother or its herd.
The Cowboy State Daily, reporting on the incident, said wildlife experts disputed the common belief that the calf’s mother would have rejected it after it was handled by humans.
However, the news outlet reported, the calf’s mother appeared disinclined to swim back across the river, and the calf “showed no interest” in trying to swim across to join the herd.
“The day was getting late,” the Cowboy Daily reported. “Park authorities closed that section of the road, briefly. A single gunshot was heard.
“When visitors returned to the area, the calf was gone.”
(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
Photo courtesy / Hellen Jack pic.twitter.com/qpiFmYFaKP
— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) May 23, 2023
The NPS confirmed the animal had been euthanized.
“In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The calf was later killed by park staff because it was abandoned by the herd and causing a hazardous situation by approaching cars and people along the roadway,” the release said.
Now, the National Park Service is looking for information on the man who tried to help the animal, which was a violation of park regulations. Those rules require visitors to stay 25 yards away from wildlife such as bison, elk and deer.
“Disregarding these regulations can result in fines, injury and even death,” the park service said.
“The safety of these animals, as well as human safety, depends on everyone using good judgment and following these simple rules,” it said.
“If you were in Lamar Valley on the evening of May 20, 2023, and have information that could help this investigation, please contact the Yellowstone National Park Tip Line at 307-344-2132 or YELL_Tip@nps.gov,” the release said.
The man in question was described as a “white male in his 40-50’s, wearing a blue shirt and black pants.”
So what was the bystander supposed to do — let the calf drown?
In a word: Yes.
“Newborn calves can sometimes struggle fording swollen waterways in an attempt to keep up with the herd,” the Cowboy State Daily explained. “They are almost always eventually successful. Even if they are not, it’s nature.”
The NPS referred animal lovers to a section on its website titled “Why Yellowstone Doesn’t Rescue Wildlife.”
“Every year, hundreds of animals are injured or separated from their mothers or groups for various reasons,” the park service explained.
“A few of these events have gone viral on social media and elicited world-wide requests for the park to save these animals, rehabilitate them, and return them to the wild,” it said.
“With so much attention, why doesn’t Yellowstone automatically rescue orphaned or injured animals?”
Basically, it comes down to the circle of life.
“Each year animals have more offspring than can possibly survive,” the park service said.
“The death of some animals is a necessary part of sustaining our populations of predators, scavengers, decomposers and, eventually, herbivores once the nutrient cycle comes full circle,” it said.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.