Yellowstone National Park rangers euthanized a newborn bison calf after a park visitor tried to pick up the animal in a bit to help it catch up with its herd.
The National Park Service said on Tuesday, that the calf's herd had been crossing the Lamar River on Saturday evening when the calf got separated from its mother on the river bank. A man observing the scene approached the animal with apparent rescue intentions.
Calf Euthanized as it Approached Cars, Posed a Hazard to Park Guests
"As the calf struggled, the man pushed the calf up from the river and onto the roadway," NPS said. "Visitors later observed the calf walk up to and follow cars and people."
Park rangers repeatedly tried to reunite the calf with the herd, but the herd resisted. The rangers later euthanized the calf, saying its persistence in approaching cars posed a hazard to guests, according to NPS.
Visitor Could Face Charges for Disturbing Wildlife
NPS is investigating the incident and asking the public to share any relevant information to a tip line. The agency has yet to identify the man behind the incident, describing him as a "white male in his 40-50's, wearing a blue shirt and black pants."
Pending the outcome of the investigation, he could be charged with Class B misdemeanors, including disturbing wildlife, disorderly conduct (creating a hazardous condition) and approaching wildlife, according to Morgan Warthin, a spokesperson for Yellowstone National Park.
If found guilty of those charges, the man could face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine, Warthin told NPR.
Yellowstone requires that visitors stay at least 25 yards away from its two breeding bison herds, which collectively contained 5,900 animals at the last count in 2022. The park is the only place in the contiguous U.S. to have maintained a continuously free-ranging bison population since prehistoric times.
Why Didn't the Park Send the Calf to a Wildlife Sanctuary or Zoo?
The park's decision to euthanize the animal sparked outrage on social media, with many questioning why the calf could not be transported to a wildlife sanctuary or zoo.
In response, park officials put out the following statement:
"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."
Read the full statement below:
This is not the first time a bison has been euthanized in Yellowstone following human interference. In 2016, Edward O'Brien of Montana Public Radioreported that park authorities euthanized a calf after two tourists placed it in their car and drove it to a nearby park facility because they "thought the animal looked cold and uncomfortable."