It is difficult for most people to see a baby animal in distress, even in the wild, and the urge to step in and help can be overwhelming. But a visitor’s recent attempt to save a bison calf in yellowstone national park backfired when he led the herd to reject the animal, forcing the National Park Service to euthanize the animal.
On Saturday, May 20, visitors to the Lamar Valley area of the park saw a newborn calf separate from its mother as a herd of bison crossed the Lamar River. In response, witnesses said a tourist, described by the park service as a “white male in his 40s, wearing a blue shirt and black pants”, approached it and “pushed the calf from the river and on the causeway”.
However, there was no happy ending in store for the calf, which began walking towards visitors rather than returning to its mother. But the NPS said in a statement that staff ‘repeatedly tried to reunite the calf with the herd’ afterwards they failed and ended up euthanizing the animal after it continued to approach people and cars on the road , “causing a dangerous situation”.
May is the height of Yellowstone’s bison calving season, which runs from April to early July, and calves are common at this time of year. The sight of fuzzy, lanky youngsters can cause puzzled behavior in visitors more accustomed to caring for pets than dealing with wild animals. This isn’t the first time a Yellowstone bison has been euthanized after an encounter with a tourist who wanted to help it. In May 2016, a father and son visiting the park put a calf in the back of their car and drove it to a ranger station because they thought it was cold. instead, rangers ticketed the couple and dropped off the calf after they repeatedly failed to reintroduce the animal to their herd. (The NPS is currently trying to identify the person involved in this weekend’s incident, although it has not yet said whether it plans to fine him or otherwise prosecute.)
There are deep-seated evolutionary reasons for the very human urge to help baby animals, a fact that biologists and psychologists have understood for decades. In the 1940s, Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz suggested that most young animals, including human infants, share a “baby pattern” of features that inherently capture people’s attention, such as round bodies and small noses and mouths. As psychiatry researcher Eloise Stark told the BBCresearch has since found that the mere sight of a baby animal triggers activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of our brain involved in reward, motivating us to approach or interact with it.
But fight that biology, backpackers, because the cold, hard truth is that baby wild animals aren’t like little humans or even pets. Whether you’re a hiker on a week-long trip or a tourist taking a tour through Yellowstone, your encounters with them will last minutes, while they’ll have to rely on their family for weeks, months, or even years. they’ll survive. Anything that jeopardizes that relationship is likely to put them at risk and, as the NPS notes in its statement, that includes “interference by people.”
Yes, seeing nature take its course can be hard to watch – it’s impossible to say whether the young bison in this latest incident would have survived even without the human “help” it received. But untrained and inexperienced people are poor judges of the needs of wild animals, and in this case, they have done more harm than good.