This past Memorial Day weekend, visitors driving along U.S. Highway 191 in Yellowstone National Park put a newborn elk in their vehicle. The tourists then took the elk to the West Yellowstone, Montana, Police Department. According to a press release, the elk calf ran off into the forest and disappeared. The animal’s condition is unknown, and the incident is under further investigation.
“Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in some cases, their survival,” the park said in its press release. “When an animal is near a campsite, trail, boardwalk, parking lot, on a road, or in a developed area, leave it alone and give it space.” Officials did not say why the tourists decided to shuttle the young elk to the authorities.
The incident comes only a couple of days after a man in the northern section of the park was charged with feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, and intentionally disturbing wildlife. That man pushed a bison calf up from the banks of the Lamar River towards the road and away from its herd. Clifford Walters told the New York Times that, as he watched the calf struggle in the water, he “couldn’t stand seeing [it] die.” Walter’s actions eventually lead to the calf’s death anyway. The animal was euthanized by park staff after failed attempts to reunite it with its herd.
While illegal and harmful to wildlife, these incidents are far from uncommon. Last summer, a woman was gored and thrown into the air after getting within 10 feet of a bison. In 2016, tourists put a bison in their car because they thought the animal was freezing and dying. That bison was later euthanized.
On its website, NPS has taken pains to remind visitors that Yellowstone National Park is not a zoo. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is fragile, the agency says, and careful management decisions have been made to ensure species survival and the health of the natural environment. Rangers never “save” wildlife, instead, the park’s goal is “preservation, not rescue and rehabilitation.”
The park requires tourists to remain at least 25 yards from ungulates like bison, elk, and deer and at least 100 from large carnivores like bears and wolves. Visitors who witness someone disturbing wildlife, either in person or online, should call 911.