“This is a conversation that’s difficult to have on social media,” Yellowstone National Park offers in response to public outcry.
The park’s decision to euthanize a bison calf after handling by a visitor continues to make headlines across the world. Their initial media release and social media posts on the matter, which remains under investigation, have also sparked intense public debate.
In turn, Yellowstone officials have offered a response that is both educational and justifying in nature. The park’s full response is below. But first, let’s break down the unfortunate situation that led to the park’s statement.
The Bison Calf and Visitor Incident
What Happened: On the evening of May 20, 2023, an unidentified man approached a newborn bison calf in Lamar Valley near the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek. There, the calf would separate from its mother when the herd crossed moving waters.
As this calf struggled, the Yellowstone visitor “pushed the calf up from the river and onto the roadway,” the park reported in their initial media release. Visitors would then observe the calf “walk up to and follow cars and people.”
The Outcome: As Yellowstone further explained, interference by people can cause wildlife to reject their offspring. 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. The park also notes the calf “causing a hazardous situation by approaching cars and people along the roadway.”
Per Yellowstone officials to Outsider, the man intentionally disturbing the calf directly resulted in the death of the calf.
Yellowstone National Park Responds to Public Outcry
On social media, Yellowstone has received intense backlash over their decision. An overwhelming amount of comments continue to pour in on all platforms. There are far too many to cover, but the park’s response offers a summary of public outcry alongside their official response:
“Many of you are asking why Yellowstone would euthanize a bison calf instead of caring for it or sending it to a sanctuary. Federal and state regulations prohibit the transport of bison out of Yellowstone unless those bison are going to meat processing or scientific research facilities. We now have a quarantine facility so bison can go through the months-long testing protocols for brucellosis, and, if negative, be used to start conservation herds elsewhere. However, the use of quarantine for a newborn calf that’s abandoned and unable to care for itself is not a good candidate for quarantine,” the park begins.
“This is a conversation that’s difficult to have on social media. But it’s important to understand that national parks are very different than animal sanctuaries or zoos. 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 continues.
“By this, we mean undomesticated wildlife and the ecosystems they both depend on and contribute to. Every day in national parks, some animals die so that others may live. In fact, as many as 25% of the bison calves born this spring will die, but those deaths will benefit other animals by feeding everything from bears and wolves to birds and insects. Allowing this cycle of life to play out aligns most closely with the stewardship responsibility entrusted to us by the American people.”
‘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.’
Unfortunately,” Yellowstone notes, “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.”
The national park offers this explanation “not because we want everyone to agree with us, but because we believe that problem solving starts with difficult conversations. When these conversations arise, it’s important that you continue to speak freely, and with the assumption that everyone, including the person who handled the bison was operating with the best intentions.”
Yellowstone’s Investigation Continues
Amid the debate, Yellowstone National Park law enforcement officers are asking the public for information. As their photo shows, the park visitor responsible for the situation is an adult white male in his 40 or 50’s who was wearing a blue shirt and black pants on May 20, 2023.
If you were in Lamar Valley on the evening of May 20, 2023, and have information that could help this investigation, please contact:
- Yellowstone National Park Tip Line: 307-344-2132
- Or email: [email protected]
And please remember, approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being. In this case, it determined their survival.
Park regulations require that people stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all wildlife (including bison, elk and deer). Visitors must remain at least 100 yards (91 m) from bears and wolves.
Disregarding these regulations can result in fines, injury and even death. “The safety of these animals, as well as human safety, depends on everyone using good judgment and following these simple rules,” the park notes.
Park officials also provide information on when Yellowstone staff intervene in a natural process and why.
For more on the park’s bison and ecosystem, see our Yellowstone National Park Breakdown.