Monday, July 26, 2010

Stupid, stupid people

I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park with my family three times – most recently this June. One of the wildlife highlights are the bison just walking around and doing whatever it is bison do with their time. When entering the park, the rangers always hand out a little piece of paper warning against approaching the bison too closely – they may look placid like cows in a field, but they can move surprisingly fast and are sometimes foul-tempered.

By the way, even though the National Park Service calls them buffalo, that's a misnomer - they're only distantly related to African cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) or the Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis).  The American Bison (Bison bison) is a native North American beast with ancestors stretching back into the Ice Age.

Despite the warnings, numerous people are injured (some killed) each year by bison in Yellowstone. If you’ve ever been there, I’m sure you’ve seen people with cameras approach them far too closely given their sometimes unpredictable nature (and totally unnecessary too, since the advent of digital cameras with the zoom feature).

American Bison: A Natural History by Dale Lott (University of California Press, 2003) is an interesting book on bison I read a few years ago. In it, the author, a behavioral ecologist retired from UC Davis, recounts a couple of things he’s seen bison do including “tiptoeing” across cattle guards and jumping, from a complete standing-still position, up a six foot high embankment. It's a beast that can stand over 6 feet high, can weight upwards of 2,000 pounds, and run at speeds of 40 mph.  They're the largest living land animal in North America.

I love bison – they’re one of the most majestic sites of the western prairie. Tatanka, as the Lakota call them, once numbered in the tens of millions with thundering herds stretching for miles across the plains.

Bison herd at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Today, there are only a few places where you can view small, managed herds – a sad remnant of a once mighty race of animals destroyed by human greed and stupidity (an estimated 50 million bison were killed in the 19th century).  The bison were on the verge of extinction by 1890.

Bison skulls waiting to be ground into fertilizer circa mid 1870s

Anyway, there was a video in the news this week about a bison charging and injuring a woman who was photographing it. She actually didn’t cause the bison to charge, however, some asshole just out of view of the video threw a piece of wood at it provoked the charge. Watch the video closely around the 26 second mark – see the wood bounce off the bison’s back? No wonder he was pissed.

Here’s the video.

What annoys me as well is the release by Yellowstone National Park officials which only says the following about the attack itself:

At about 8:30 p.m. on July 19, a 49-year-old woman and a 61-year-old male family member were exiting the Biscuit Basin thermal area to rejoin their family group in the parking lot, when a bison appeared in some nearby brush and charged them. The woman was struck and flipped in the air by the bison.
The video clearly shows the woman approached far to close to the bison - she admits to being closer than 30 feet and park regulations say you must be at least 25 yards (75 feet) away at minimum.  Why didn't they fine this idiot?  Second, why no mention of someone provoking the attack by throwing branches at the bison?  The park service makes it sound like an unprovoked attack.

Anyway, I never cease to be amazed at the depths of human stupidity and unthinking cruelty. I sincerely hope the park service didn’t do anything to this bison and it’s too bad the moron who threw the stick wasn't trampled to death to remove them from the gene pool (I like bison more than I like people who would throw sticks at them).

There's an interesting book called Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park by Lee Whittlesey (Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1995) if you're interested in reading about people who qualifed for a Darwin Award while vacationing in Yellowstone (here's a news flash - hot springs and boiling mud pots really are hot enough to cook you if you fall into one).

The water in this Yellowstone hot spring is boiling - not a place for a soak!

1 comment:

  1. Just stumbled across your blog, like it a lot and feel as you do about the kind of moron who'd throw a stick at a bison. Don't really want to post anonymously, but don't know how to do it any of the other ways. Copyedit: it's "One of the highlights . . . IS," not "are."