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Enjoying The Wildlife Of Yellowstone National Park Safely

Updated on August 31, 2018
Bison in Yellowstone National Park
Bison in Yellowstone National Park | Source

Wild, Not Tame!

A visit to Yellowstone National Park will not only treat you to it's famous geysers, rivers, lakes and the sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Wildlife abounds in Yellowstone National Park, making it a dream come true for those wanting to see eagles, elk, deer, bison, cyotes, lynx, mountain lions, moose, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, mountain goats and even big horn sheep in their natural habitat. The thousands of visitors that pour into this amazing park are so thrilled by the wildlife that they often forget that these are wild, not tame animals that they are viewing. Too often common sense flies out the window, and foolishness prevails while trying to get that perfect camera shot, or showing the wild animals to the kids. By just following a few simple rules, you can make your wildlife viewing safe.

Safely View Bison From 25 Yards Away

A bison, the largest land mammal, can be as large as 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. When you see these huge animals grazing contentedly, they seem slow and easy going. But beware – they can quickly gain a speed of 30 miles an hour. Every year more people are injured by bison than any other animal - and most of it is due to sheer stupidity. They get too close or, even more stupidly, taunt the bison. On June 25th of this year, a man failed to yield to an oncoming bison, and was gored and thrown 10 feet into the air. In 2010 a video captured a woman being charged by a bison. It ended up that someone she knew threw a stick at the bison so that it would look at the camera. Guess they got more than they bargained for!

So give these giants the respect that they deserve. There is such an abundance of these magnificent creatures wandering through the park, that you can get plenty of great shots without putting yourself in harms way. If you are at the prescribed 25 yards away and you see them moving towards you, take cover if possible. My husband and I never get far away from our truck when getting pictures, so that we can make a quick entry to safety if need be.

I took this video of a bison herd coming out of the water. Notice the red truck and the guy making a dash for it as the bison approach? That's my husband running for safety. I personally think that he should have made the move a little sooner, and that the other spectators that remained standing there as the herd passed were foolish. I was taking the video while hiding behind another truck.

Safely View Bears From 100 Yards Away

During our trip to Yellowstone in 2007 we noticed two adorable brown bear cubs along the side of the highway. We also noticed a group of young girls getting out of their car and approaching the cubs. My husband frantically yelled to them “Get back into the car”, knowing that where there were cubs, there would be a mother bear right behind them. They looked at my husband as if he were insane, but he just yelled at them again - even more emphatically. Fortunately they got back into their car just in time as the mother bear came charging across the highway after her cubs.

Two important lessons to be learned from this story. Never view a bear from less than 100 yards away, and be extra careful around a mother bear with cubs. That maternal instinct takes over, and watch out when it does!

In 2010 we returned to Yellowstone, and I was fortunate enough to get this video of a mother grizzly and her two cubs foraging on Mount Washburn. I was close to the truck, and a comfortable distance away from the bear family while filming this. The zoom on the camera makes it look much closer than it really was.

Be Extra Careful During Mating Season

Visitors have been attacked by other wildlife in Yellowstone, including elk and moose. Bull moose and elk can get very aggressive during mating season, which is in the early fall. However, you should be cautious at all times, and follow the 25 yards away rule with all animals. Remember that they are in their natural habitat and that you are the visitor. Be smart, stay safe, and you'll thoroughly enjoy the incredible wildlife of Yellowstone.

Pronghorn Antelope, Yellowstone National Park
Pronghorn Antelope, Yellowstone National Park | Source

© 2012 Margaret Perrottet


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