Staff at Yellowstone National Park had to euthanize a newborn bison calf this week after an unidentified visitor handled the wild animal, according to a release from the National Park Service.
The bison calf was falling behind its herd and mother as they crossed the Lamar River in Wyoming on Saturday evening. Though park guests are warned not to interact with wildlife, a man approached the animal.
In what appeared to be an attempt to hurry the calf along, the unidentified man touched the bison and pushed it up from the river and onto the roadway.
The National Park Authority claimed after crossing the river, the bison calf was observed as it tried to approach and follow both cars and people in the park.
Park rangers repeatedly tried to reunite the calf with its herd, but all efforts were unsuccessful. The calf was abandoned by the herd and subsequently caused a “hazardous situation” when it approached vehicles and humans on the roadway.
“Interference by people can cause wildlife to reject their offspring,” the National Park Service explained in the release. “Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in this case, their survival.”
The authority shared a photo of the unidentified man who touched the bison calf. The man, believed to be in his 40s or 50s, was pictured with his hands on either side of the tiny bison. He was wearing a blue shirt and black pants.
The man could possibly be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and may face six months in jail and a US$5,000 fine, according to CNN.
As the National Park Service shared news of the bison calf’s death, concerned netizens voiced their confusion and outrage over the decision to euthanize.
In a Facebook comment, a representative for the National Park Service explained why the calf was not sent 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,” the National Park Service wrote.
The authority said while it is working to create quarantine protocols for bison to be transported to a “conservation herd” outside of the park, no such protocol exists yet. To do so, a bison would require months-long testing for brucellosis, a livestock disease, and if negative, could be relocated. A newborn calf that is unable to care for itself would not be a good candidate for such a quarantine even if it were possible, the National Park Service wrote.
There was also no option for the abandoned bison calf to be cared for by humans within Yellowstone National Park. The park does not provide direct care for its animals, as it “is a space for animals to live their lives with as little human intervention as possible in today’s world.”
“It’s really important to understand that national parks are very different than animal sanctuaries or zoos,” the National Park Service reminded its critics. “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. By this, we mean undomesticated wildlife and the ecosystems they both depend on and contribute to.”
The message can be tough to swallow, but the National Park Service outlined the circle of life simply: “Every day in national parks, some animals die so that others may live.”
Yellowstone National Park requires visitors to stay at least 25 yards (23 metres) away from all wildlife, including bison.
The park is the only place in the U.S. to have maintained a continuously free-ranging bison population since prehistoric times. There are currently thousands of bison in the Wyoming park, belonging to two breeding herds.
Anyone with relevant information about the man who touched the bison calf has been encouraged to contact the National Park Service tip line at (307) 344-2132.