Photo by Dennis W. Donohue/

Woman caught petting bison in Yellowstone National Park

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National Parks might provide people with the opportunity to get back to the basics and commune with nature, but they also give them the chance to do some really silly things.

Saturday marked opening day at Yellowstone National Park, though it wasn’t a great start to the season. An unidentified woman was spotted petting one of the park’s bison, which was laying near a boardwalk. Her actions were captured by another visitor, who posted the video on the Yellowstone Visitor Facebook page, along with this important message: “Never approach wildlife and never pet them. Sadly, this visitor thought it was a good idea to pet a bison.”

But this isn’t just safety advice from one park visitor to another—petting these animals can be considered wildlife harassment, and could land the woman in legal trouble.

“When you harass wildlife, you could face a citation or a mandatory appearance in front of a federal magistrate,” Yellowstone National Park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett told KRTV.

“We don’t restrict animal movements in the park,” she said, but they do require guests keep a minimum distance from all wildlife. According to park regulations, that distance is 25 yards from large animals like elk and bison, and 100 yards from more dangerous predators like bears and wolves.

Bartlett also noted that “this woman is extremely lucky,” especially since the bison’s “tolerance level hasn’t been tested in quite a few months.”

While bison might seem slow and harmless to some, a 1992 video posted on the National Park Service’s website—”intending to convince everyone that it is unwise to approach wild animals even if they seem tame”—shows otherwise. These thousand-pound animals can be unpredictable, and can reach speeds of more than 50 kilometres per hour.

But that nearly 25-year-old video, which was taken near Yellowstone’s West Thumb Geyser Basin, is hardly the last time a bison attacked one of the park’s visitors. Between May 2015 and July 2015, five people were gored by the park’s bison, and four of those five had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital for treatment.

One of the incidents involved a woman and her daughter, who were trying to take a selfie with the animal, a disturbing new trend that’s risen alongside the use of social media.

Bartlett told KRTV that visitors should report actions like these to officials immediately, and that law enforcement is investigating the latest incident.

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