Baby Bison Death Not Fault of Tourists Who Put It in Their Car, Yellowstone Photographer Says

June 8, 2016 2:44 pm Last Updated: July 3, 2016 5:17 pm

Two foreign tourists loaded a lone bison calf in their car, fearing it may die if left alone, and drove it to rangers in Yellowstone National Park last month. The rangers tried unsuccessfully to reintroduce the calf to a herd, but in the end euthanized it.

The incident unleashed a whirlwind of media reports and public discussions. After the park administration thoroughly explained why putting the animal down was the only thing they could do, one cloud of bitterness remained—the blame on the tourists who put the calf in their SUV.

Now, a local wildlife photographer has stepped forward, saying it wasn’t the tourists’ fault either.

Deby Dixon, a professional photographer, has spent the past one and a half years documenting Yellowstone wildlife.

She was aware of the bison calf even before the tourists picked it up

“There is no way that the tourists were responsible for the calf being abandoned as it had already been alone for 3 days,” she told Epoch Times over email.

The park administration noted that bison may abandon their young if humans interfere with it. But it also stated one in four calves in the park gets abandoned by its mother even without any human interference.

This case was most likely the latter scenario, according to Dixon.

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Traveling through the Lamar Valley, Dixon spotted the calf near the road and took pictures of it, days before the tourists found it.

“The calf was bawling and looking for its mother, but there were no other bison anywhere close by,” she wrote in an article for National Parks Traveler.

“Instantly, I knew three things: that the calf was orphaned or had become separated from its mother; that the calf would not be adopted by another cow and could not survive alone, and so it was just a matter of time before it died or was killed; and that I wanted a photo of that calf, in order to remember its short life,” she wrote.

The lone bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that was eventually loaded into a SUV trunk was photographed a few days before. (Courtesy of Deby Dixon)
The lone bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that was eventually loaded into a SUV trunk was photographed a few days before. (Courtesy of Deby Dixon)

Later, she learned the calf started to approach people.

“[W]hen I heard that the calf was walking up to cars, in search of mom, I did not return to look. I knew that visitors would be clamoring to take photos of the baby bison and that they would not fully understand its predicament,” she wrote. “I knew that some would feel their heart breaking over the calf’s plight and loneliness and want to help. But, never did I dream that some people would put the calf into their car and carry it to the ranger station in search of help.”

Past numbers indicate about 300 bison are born in the park each year. That means dozens of calves get abandoned every year, “but those deaths will benefit other animals by feeding everything from bears and wolves to birds and insects,” the park administration explained in a Facebook comment.

The tourists “made a bad decision, but essentially did no harm as the calf would have died anyway,” Dixon said. “They actually did a lot of good from an educational perspective.”

The story spurred widespread media coverage and multiple publications followed up with reports on the park’s explanation, informing public about the principles of maintaining wildlife environment the park follows.

Not all the media attention brought positive results, though.

One innocent victim, for example, was Karen Richardson who took the picture of the calf standing the the car trunk.

She just happened to be at the park facility when the tourists pulled over with the animal.

The group she was with warned the tourists they were in trouble for picking up the animal and told them to put the animal back where they found it.

Richardson snapped a picture of the animal and later posted it on Facebook, where it was picked up by media.

But some readers misunderstood the reports and thought she was to blame for putting the calf in the car, and even for causing its death. She was even harassed online.

Bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that two tourists placed in their car trunk out of concern for its livelihood. (Photo was taken by Karen Richardson, who had no relation to the people who placed the animal in their car)
Bison calf in Yellowstone National Park that two tourists placed in their car trunk out of concern for its livelihood. (Photo was taken by Karen Richardson, who had no connection to the people who placed the animal in their car)

“Although we get to know certain animals and become fond of them, they are not our pets and we are not in charge with whether they live or die,” Dixon wrote. “This might sound harsh but is the way of the wild—it is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating, while also having the ability to break our hearts on a daily basis.”

Indeed, even though this was not the first time Dixon encountered abandoned bison calf, she still had tears in her eyes when leaving after taking her picture, she wrote.

“[F]or most of us, it is only natural to see a wild animal in distress and want to help it survive. That makes us caring human beings, not monsters,” she wrote.

Still, the park warns, others should not follow the mistake of the tourists.

“In all of this, there’s one takeaway we really want to underscore: please give animals space. Stay at least 100 yards away from wolves and bears, and at least 25 yards away from all other animals. Help us make it socially unacceptable to do anything else,” park officials said.