Government report advises Yellowstone visitors against bison selfies

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park risk injury when allowing bison or other wildlife to approach within 25 yards. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate - click to enlarge)

Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate file photo

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park risk injury when allowing bison or other wildlife to approach within 25 yards.

CODY, WYO. — People visiting Yellowstone National Park this summer should follow some simple advice to avoid being injured by wildlife: keep your distance, and no bison selfies.

That’s the conclusion of a report issued this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examined five separate incidents leading to injuries caused by bison in the park last summer.

The National Park Service issues bright yellow flyers warning of bison gorings to every Yellowstone National Park visitor at entry. (NPS image - click to enlarge)

The National Park Service issues bright yellow flyers warning of bison gorings to every Yellowstone National Park visitor at entry.

All of those “encounters resulted from failure to maintain the required distance of 75 feet from bison” stated the report, published in the March 25 edition of the Centers’ “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”

The five incidents all took place around trails, geyser basins or developed areas from May through July, the report said. Four people were hospitalized, “three of whom were transported by helicopter ambulance.”

Four of the incidents happened when groups of three or more people approached the bison, and three took place while visitors were taking photos within six feet of bison, the report said.

During two of those three photo-related injuries, people had their backs turned to the animals, and one person reported “taking a cell phone self-portrait (selfie), which necessitated getting close to the animal.”

An Aug. 4 video posted to YouTube illustrates the importance of keeping a safe distance from wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. (YouTube video)

An Aug. 4, 2012 video posted to YouTube illustrates the importance of keeping a safe distance from wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Yellowstone is home to almost 5,000 bison, and they are found across much of the park. Adult bulls can weigh 2,000 pounds and run faster than an Olympic sprinter. Bison can be unpredictable and dangerous, particularly when spooked.

The National Park Service has for many years distributed flyers and other materials to visitors entering the park, warning of the dangers of thermal features and wildlife, particularly bison, which are responsible for more human injuries since 1980 than any other animal in Yellowstone.

Park regulations require staying 300 feet from bears and wolves and 75 feet from other wildlife. But many visitors, including an increasing number of first-time and foreign tourists, are either unaware of park rules or choose to ignore them.

The report noted that from 1980-99, about 30 percent of bison-related injuries involved photography, and most of those injured were more than 10 feet away just before the incident.

“Smart phones now meet the needs of most casual photographers,” the report said.

“The popularity of smart phone photography with its limited zoom capacity and social media sharing of selfies might explain why visitors disregard park regulations and approach wildlife more closely than when traditional camera technology was used,” the report said.

A record 4 million people visited the park last year, and this summer is also expected to be busy as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial. Yellowstone officials have said they are exploring ways to better educate tourists about safety issues, including close encounters with wildlife.

“Injury prevention campaigns that identify and target the underlying motivations of visitors to not comply with viewing distances might prevent future injuries,” the report stated.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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