In spring 2016, a handful of tourists in Yellowstone pulled a series of stunts that endangered their lives, that of wildlife and led to the death of a baby bison. Find out what happened when the tourists broke the rules and learn three things not to do when you are in the park.
1. Don’t Stray Off the Boardwalks
In May 2016, four men from the Vancouver area in British Columbia visited the Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest hot spring in the world. It is slightly larger than a football field. Ignoring park rules to stay on the boardwalk, the men trampled on the wet, ecologically fragile ground, jumping around and posing for photos about 25 yards off the boardwalk. At least one of them dipped their fingers in the spring’s burning hot water.
Water in the spring can reach 160 F, which can cause severe burns and even death. And it’s possible to punch through the earthen crust around the park’s thermal features and literally land in boiling hot water, even if the ground looks solid.
Furthermore, the spring’s sensitive microbes are responsible for the brilliant colors in the Grand Prismatic. With different bacteria thriving in varying temperatures, the colored rings in the pool have been referred to as a “living thermometer.” Any foreign interference in the spring could negatively impact the ecological balance of the bacteria.
Rangers filed a criminal complaint against three of the men. The fourth has not been identified.
Related: Things Stuffed Down a Geyser
2. Don’t Stand Near or Try to Touch Wildlife
In spring 2016, a tourist was caught on video looking like she was attempting to pet a bison near Old Faithful. Several weeks later, other tourists placed a baby bison in their car after they thought it looked cold. The latter incident ended with the baby bison being euthanized after its mom rejected it.
Park officials tried multiple times to reunite the baby calf with its mom after returning it to the area where the tourists had found it. Those attempts were unsuccessful. Rejected by its mother, the calf kept wandering near people and cars, creating a dangerous situation. Without the resources or facilities to quarantine the calf nor care for it, park officials were forced to euthanize it.
“In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis,” said Peggy Olliff of Yellowstone’s public affairs department. “No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don't have the capacity to care for a calf that's too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.”
Not only did the tourists’ poor decision end in the calf’s death, but touching wild animals can endanger your life and that of the animal. Bison mothers are extremely protective of their young, and the calf’s mom could have charged at the tourists.
3. Don’t Jump in Hot Springs
As beautiful as the park’s hot springs look, don’t be fooled. They are not for swimming or soaking. The waters are dangerously hot. In the past, tourists have been severely burned or fatally injured by Yellowstone’s thermal features. Stay on designated trails and keep a close eye on your children or grandchildren. If you see someone off trail, help them be safe by reminding them of the rules.