Thursday, July 07, 2011

Human vs. Wildlife

So, this is not a great week for Yellowstone. First an ExxonMobil oil pipeline breaks in the Yellowstone River and then a man was mauled to death by a sow defending her cubs

From the accounts currently available, it sounded like a tragic accident. The man was hiking with his wife and startled the bear, prompting her to rush the couple in defense of her young ones. The woman escaped with only minor scrapes but her husband was fatally injured. My deepest sympathies go out to the wife and family. 

That said, I’m surprised that more attacks don’t occur every year, given the sheer numbers of people traveling through the park and the ever-shrinking geographic area in which the animals find themselves confined. 

We saw several examples of people getting too close to animals; I think folks are so excited to see wildlife outside of a zoo that they forget that both people and animals can be harmed by close contact. 

Example No. 1:

 It’s illegal to get within 100 yards of a bear, nevermind 25 feet. No wonder the park has to dispatch a ranger to the area whenever an animal is spotted by the road. 

Example No. 2:
 Read this lovely account of a woman that was charged by a bison last year in the park. Not only was she waaaaaay too close, but somebody nearby was throwing sticks at the animal. The video is pretty interesting and she’s lucky that she escaped serious injury. 

And lastly, Example No. 3:
I’m not sure if a bison looks at somebody on a motorcycle as something that it could tackle (figuratively and literally). In Africa, the lions didn’t view the open-sided safari vehicles as threats [or, more importantly, as tasty bento boxes]. However, the minute somebody stood up in the vehicle [and by doing so, identified themselves as a potential meal], the lions were instantly interested. Consequently, there was a sit-down-at-all-times rule that was strictly enforced.

Regardless, I would have been pretty freaked out to be the occupants on the motorcycle that is in front of the red jeep and directly adjacent to the bison. This guy was big and brazen. Way too close for comfort. 

That said, we were on the website for the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary in Alaska the other day…. and we really, really want to go*. How hypocritical is that, Peeps?!

* It’s not quite as awful as it sounds: the Dept. of Fish and Game only allows about 300 people each year to visit the park and you are accompanied by a ranger at all times. Rules are strictly enforced and people are not allowed to closely approach the bears. No visitor has ever been mauled. Yet. 


  1. Katherine J1:17 PM

    I was two months late to enter the lottery for McNeil this year, however, I did enter the lottery to drive into Denali this September. Maybe you guys should push your trip back by two weeks just in case we get lucky (I think I requested the 14th and 16th of September) and then we can all go! (I think each winner gets to bring six people along).

    But I am definitely entering the lottery for McNeil next year, just as long as we have the budget for it. Not only is the permit expensive but you have to pay for two legs of bush flights roundtrip to get out there!

  2. If I were the motorcyclist I'd probably be more concerned about the car behind me not paying attention and hitting me. Obviously not at a high rate of speed I'm sure, but still...

    And this is just another item to add to the loooong list of why I can't vacation in this type of environment. lol

  3. The Yellowstone bear mauling broke my heart. It's impossible to rationalize the situation - mama bear was simply protecting her cubs, the innocent hikers didn't even know she was in the vicinity. No one is at fault, no one to blame. (Unlike many of the situations in which the idiotic tourist is standing 25 feet from the bear/moose/bison/large dangerous animal.)  As a person that spends quite a bit of time in the outdoors, these situations scare me. But if I let my fear run my life, I'd be a hermit. We can only hope that if we continue respecting the wilderness (including inhabitants), and its sometimes harsh realities, these incidents will remain one in millions.

    I think I would have passed out from sheer terror if I were the guy on the motorcycle next to the crazed bison. *Yikes*