Yellowstone National Park officials are investigating tourists who they say grabbed a baby elk, put it inside their car and drove to a police station.
It happened during the Memorial Day weekend, National Park Service officials said in a news release. The tourists likely drove on U.S. Highway 191 in the park to bring the newborn calf to the West Yellowstone Police Department in Montana.
While it’s unclear what happened at the police station, at some point the elk calf escaped and ran off into the forest. Park rangers don’t know the calf’s condition.
The tourists may have thought they were helping what they believed to be an abandoned calf, Outsider reported. But elk mothers often leave their calves bedded and hidden in grass while they forage or graze.
The tourists’ interference “eliminates any chance of the mother finding its newborn,” the outlet reported. Displacing wildlife is also a federal crime and violates Yellowstone National Park rules, regardless of any “good intentions.”
A summary of the incident was posted to a Facebook group dedicated to mocking tourists’ bad behavior inside the park called “Yellowstone National Park: Invasion of the Idiots.” The group is linked to an Instagram account with the same purpose, @TouronsofYellowstone.
“Don’t put wildlife in your car…. I can’t believe we have to tell you that,” someone commented in the Facebook group.
Someone else suggested the calf will most likely die while separated from its mom.
“Bet momma is still looking for that little bear [bait],” someone commented.
Park rangers say they are investigating several other incidents of people approaching wildlife inside the park as well.
In May, a man stepped in to help a struggling bison calf cross a river with its herd — but officials said his actions led to the herd rejecting the calf. Park staff had to kill the calf when it approached the road and followed cars, McClatchy News previously reported, and the man pleaded guilty to disturbing wildlife and will pay a fine.
Park officials are investigating a range of other recent bison incidents, including a video posted online of someone posing for selfies right in front of a relaxing bison.
That video was recorded in Biscuit Basin, according to the caption.
“People were telling her to move away and she kept posing for like 10 minutes,” the caption said.
Over the last few days, group members posted about a dozen photos of different tourists getting way too close to bison inside the park. Several of the photos were taken just a few days ago, group members said.
Clever group members dubbed it “tourist tossing season.”
Last year, bison gored multiple people who got too close, with one tourist tossed 10 feet in the air, McClatchy News reported.
“Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal,” park rangers said at the time. “They are unpredictable and can run three times faster than humans.”
Park officials warn against approaching any wildlife in the park, and want visitors to understand how their actions can negatively affect wildlife.
“Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in some cases, their survival,” officials said. “When an animal is near a campsite, trail, boardwalk, parking lot, on a road, or in a developed area, leave it alone and give it space.”
4. Give Wildlife Room, Use a Zoom
Animals are wild and dangerous if approached! Help keep wildlife wild by not approaching/following/feeding any animal. Stay 100 yards (91m) from bears/wolves and 25 yards (23m) from all other animals https://t.co/0br3gq88A1#PlanLikeAParkRanger pic.twitter.com/NAiDJiWniH
— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) June 2, 2023
Park rules require people to stay at least 25 yards (75 feet) away from all wildlife, including bison, elk, and deer. And you should be way farther — 100 yards, or about the length of a football field — from predators like bears and wolves.
“Disregarding these regulations can result in fines, injury, and even death,” officials said.
The best way to stay safe around wildlife is give them room to move. Do not feed, touch, tease, frighten, or intentionally disturb wildlife. Remember that wildlife in parks are wild and like your ex, can be unpredictable when they’re disturbed or surprised.
— National Park Service (@NatlParkService) June 2, 2023