The sheer size and wildness of Yellowstone National Park’s signature bison provide a magnificent subject for camera-toting tourists.
But officials caution visitors not to come within 25 yards of the animals, noting that they are unpredictable and able to sprint three times faster than people can run.
A 62-year-old Australian man who ventured to within 3 to 5 feet of one bison was injured Tuesday when the animal charged and tossed him into the air several times, park officials said. He was released from a hospital later in the evening.
This is the second such incident within weeks.
A 16-year-old Taiwanese exchange student was gored by a bison on May 15 while posing for a photo.
Both encounters occurred in the popular Old Faithful portion of Yellowstone. Bison are found throughout the park and they can go wherever they want.
Tuesday’s encounter was near the lodge. According to witnesses, several people crowded a bison lying near an asphalt path, the park said. The unidentified man approached the animal while taking pictures, the park said, and the animal came at him.
Park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said on Wednesday the man, while getting too close, apparently became the subject of the bison’s ire after others had bothered it.
“Possibly, the person who ends up being gored or attacked is maybe not the one who is harassing the animal,” she said. “(The animal) may have been approached all day long … eventually the animal reaches its breaking point and charges people.”
In the May incident, the teen girl was visiting Yellowstone with her host family.
As they were hiking near the Old Faithful Geyser, they stopped where a group of people had gathered to watch a bison grazing next to the trail.
“The girl turned her back to the bison to have her picture taken when the bison lifted its head, took a couple steps and gored her,” the Park Service said.
The family was believed to have been standing between 3 feet and 6 feet from the animal, the park service said. The teen suffered serious injuries.
‘Yellowstone wildlife is wild’
Every year, some visitors to Yellowstone are gored by bison, sometimes fatally, according to the National Park Service.
“Visitors are reminded that Yellowstone wildlife is wild,” it said. “Wildlife should not be approached, no matter how tame or calm they appear.”
The park is dotted with signs warning people not to get too close to animals. The bison population in Yellowstone is estimated to range between 2,300 to 5,000. Officials give out safety material and encourage people to read up on an environment where the animals are king. “Most people are so excited and continue on their way,” said Bartlett.
The park’s website details efforts to manage the herd and restore the species.
“Bison are a migratory species, and they move across a vast landscape,” the park says. “When they are inside Yellowstone, they have unlimited access to every square inch of habitat.”
Bartlett said some people, including international visitors who have gone to parks in their home countries where feeding is allowed, don’t give wildlife sufficient space and believe an animal near a boardwalk or path is tame.
She encourages visitors to take a detour or wait for an animal to move, rather than get too close. “People need to be aware of what is going on in their surroundings.”
A park employee since 1994, Bartlett, too, has experienced times where she had to slow or stop.
She had to cancel a doctor’s appointment for one of her children when bison blocked a road near Hayden Valley. A normally 30-minute drive took six hours.
“There was no way to turn around because of congestion. That is life in Yellowstone.”