Yellowstone tourist tries to help young bison — but it led to its death, rangers say

A man intervened when a bison calf struggled to cross a river with its herd in Yellowstone National Park, and it ended up resulting in the death of the calf, officials said.

The man approached the newborn calf in the park May 20 near where the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek connect, officials said in a news release.

The calf had been separated from its mother. It struggled, so the man pushed the calf up from the river and onto a road, officials said in the release.

Visitors told officials they later saw the calf walk up to cars and follow people, the release said.

“Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in this case, their survival,” because “interference by people can cause wildlife to reject their offspring” — which is what happened in this case, officials said.

Park staff killed the calf after it approached cars and people along the roadway, which caused “a hazardous situation.”

“In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the calf with the herd,” officials said. “These efforts failed.”

In a post on the park’s Instagram page, many people shared their frustrations and questioned why staff killed the calf instead of sending it to a sanctuary. Officials explained that not only do state and federal regulations prevent transporting bison out of the park, but that the newborn calf would have had to spend months in quarantine and endure testing for brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can be present among bison in Yellowstone.

“The use of quarantine for a newborn calf that’s abandoned and unable to care for itself is not a good candidate for quarantine,” officials said in the post, adding that it was a tough conversation to have, especially on social media.

“It’s important to understand that national parks are very different than animal sanctuaries or zoos,” officials said in the post. “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.”

Because the calf’s behavior on roads and around people was hazardous, rangers had to intervene, officials said. But they left the calf’s body on the landscape to provide a source of food for other wildlife.

“We provide this explanation not because we want everyone to agree with us, but because we believe that problem solving starts with difficult conversations,” officials said. “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.”

The park requires people to stay at least 75 feet away from any wildlife, including bison, elk and deer, and at least 300 feet away from bears and wolves.

“Disregarding these regulations can result in fines, injury and even death,” officials said in the release. “The safety of these animals, as well as human safety, depends on everyone using good judgment and following these simple rules.”

Yellowstone law enforcement is investigating the incident.

The man, who officials said is in his 40s or 50s, was seen in a blue shirt and black pants.

Officials ask anyone who was in Lamar Valley the night of May 20 and has information that could help the investigation to contact the Yellowstone National Park Tip Line at 307-344-2132 or via email at

See adorable ‘red dog’ babies join the charge in bison stampede over Yellowstone bridge

‘What do I do?!?’ Watch as bison herd sprints past tourists’ car in Yellowstone

‘For the buffalo, baby.’ Volunteers carve tunnels in snow to help migrating bison