Yellowstone National Park Warns Visitors About Aggressive Elk in Rut

by Amy Myers

Love is in the air at Yellowstone National Park, and while that’s good news for elks in rut, that can be a dangerous situation for visitors. Males (called bulls) become particularly aggressive and territorial this time of year and will attack if humans get too close. To protect visitors from any unnecessary threat, the park posted a warning to visitors. Anyone visiting Yellowstone during September should stay at least 25 yards away from elk and even bison.

“Bull elk can be unpredictable and dangerous during this time,” Yellowstone posted in a news release. “Stay alert. People have been severely injured by elk. Elk run quickly and may change direction without warning.”

“We normally put this (warning) out in advance of the rut each year to get the safety message out,” said Linda Veress of the Yellowstone National Park’s public affairs office. “We do the same for the spring calving season.”

The warning regarding elk comes during an especially busy time for Yellowstone, as national parks everywhere are seeing record numbers of visitors. Thankfully, though, this doesn’t equate to a record number of animal-related injuries. So far in 2021, the only reported injury occurred when a hiker encountered a bear on the Beaver Ponds Trail near Mammoth Hot Springs. Other than that, it seems that both Yellowstone’s wild residents and human visitors have kept a respectable distance from one another.

“It has been a very busy season indeed,” Veress told Post Register. “We had a few wildlife-related and thermal trespass incidents but no fatalities associated with either.”

Still, this doesn’t mean visitors should be any less cautious of elk while visiting Yellowstone. At 700 pounds, the North American elk is one of the largest deer species on earth and can run up to 40 miles per hour.

Elk Population Increases at Yellowstone National Park

Visitors may also see more elk than usual at the renowned park. After a mild winter in Montana, elk have had the chance to successfully raise more of their young. According to Montana Fishing, Wildlife and Parks, Yellowstone’s elk population has increased from 5,800 in 2019 to 6,249 in 2021. This is a seven percent increase from two years ago. However, it’s difficult to compare the two numbers since researchers collected the latest data via helicopter rather than plane.

Still, if the numbers are truly accurate, this could mean that the elk population is stable and thriving. Researchers theorize that this is partly due to the fact that bulls are learning to stay within Yellowstone’s boundaries to avoid hunters. Of course, with any species, this is a delicate balance.

Too many elk within the area can threaten the survival of other crucial species. As for now, though, the elk needn’t have to worry. They’ll be as active as ever during another successful rut before prepping for the winter months.