In an intense attack that could’ve cost him his life, this photographer takes on a young bull elk who’s determined to impale him with sharp antlers.
It is rare to see an elk take on a human so directly. For one, elk are cautious and shy like most species of deer. In addition, conditioning is necessary for elk to accept humans as something other than instant danger. According to one photographer involved in this incident, this is exactly the case.
Vince M. Camiolo, the photographer responsible for filming this harrowing encounter, has since spoken with parties privy to the animal’s previous behavior. According to Smoky Mountain park officials and reporters covering the incident, the elk exhibited “a pattern of aggressive behavior that began prior to the incident documented in this video. The behavior was the result of visitors feeding the elk and conditioning them to seek food from humans. This video only serves as an example of the elk’s dangerous behavior, not an impetus to it.”
The behavior in question? You’ll have to see this one for yourself.
In what has become a staple of viral outdoors content online, the following video shows a borderline-deadly encounter between a young, aggressive bull elk and a veteran photographer. Within, the young bull takes directly to headbutting the photographer, James.
Of the original encounter, Camiolo says “While photographing elk at sunrise in the Cataloochee Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park I turned around to see what appeared to be just a curious young bull sniffing a photographer’s camera.”
Elk Attacks Photographer in Harrowing Footage
The encounter, however, quickly turns volatile. Soon, the elk “started physically harassing the photographer, escalating to full-on head-butts. I quickly switched the camera to video and let it roll (much of the time wondering when I should seriously consider intervening).”
While the videographer undoubtedly intervened sooner, he did reach out to the photographer himself to see what was going through his head at the time.
“My first thoughts were ‘wow, he’s getting pretty damn close here,'” James says. “But I’ve been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down.”
All of the above is excellent advice for anyone wishing to survive a similar encounter. James continues to say “I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring. I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him… But when he [began] rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That’s when I wagged my finger at him to cut that shit out.”
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this footage, however, is that none of the bystanders intervene. At least one fellow park visitor is watching the entire time from her vehicle. One approach from a large, loud car would easily deter this young buck from continuing his fight.
Thankfully, a ranger pulls up to the rescue towards the end of the video. And James feels a massive wave of relief. “So I guess at some point if the Ranger hadn’t of pulled up, I would have had to disengage the best I could. I’ve joked with my friends that at least he took me for a buck and not a cow!”
Viral Elk Video Leads to Tragic Loss
Unfortunately, the video does have a sad ending. While the photographer is lucky to survive his encounter, the elk is not as fortunate. Park officials let Camiolo know that the elk’s fate was due to his patterns of aggressive, dangerous behavior.
As a result, Camiolo issues the following statement:
“I am deeply saddened by the fate of the elk. It has certainly pulled a black cloud over this whirlwind “viral video” experience. I spoke to the reporter who broke the story and she assured me the decision was based on a pattern of aggressive behavior that began prior to the incident documented in this video. The behavior was the result of visitors feeding the elk and conditioning them to seek food from humans. This video only serves as an example of the elk’s dangerous behavior, not an impetus to it.”Vince M. Camiolo
Photographer James, too, issued a statement and is “heartbroken” to learn of the elk’s death due to the behavior of park visitors.
“I love and respect animals and that’s why I photograph them and don’t hunt them. [As a result], I am deeply hurt by the loss of such a beautiful creature that in its own way bonded with me. I looked forward to watching him grow to a mature bull as the years passed. I’m truly heartbroken to know he is gone.”James, Elk photographer
Another recent incident involving an aggressive bull elk, however, shows just how dangerous elk can be if they do choose to impale human threats.