July, 2015: Everyone wants to see wildlife when they visit Yellowstone. Sometimes that eagerness leads to such stupidity that we can lose our heads and even our lives in the pursuit of having an up close and personal experience with the resident animals here. We need to remember we’re not in a zoo or protected environment. We are visitors in their territory and they are not expected to defer to us.
I was lucky to have had many chances to see wildlife during my time in Yellowstone, including bison, grizzly, coyote and elk. There were definitely times I was tempted to get just a little bit closer to get a better picture.
This was the first bear I saw on the side of the road and I was thrilled that I was able to pull over and get this picture out of the side window.
Usually whenever I’d spy one, it was pretty far away and I had to extend my camera zoom to the farthest reaches – and even then, I’d stay right by the car door.
Even people who have experience working in the park don’t always heed the Bear Safety advice published and promoted all throughout the park. I was particularly disturbed by the NPS report here: Grizzly Bear Involved in Yellowstone Hiker’s Death and the subsequent report that Yellowstone Grizzly Put Down After Hiker Killed.
The vision of a bison carcass that had been covered by a grizzly mom and later feasted on by her and her cubs was still way too fresh in my mind and I felt horrible for all concerned. Keeping that in mind definitely deterred me from getting out of my car whenever I saw a bear on the side of the road no matter how far away it was. See Bear Encounters for that tale.
I was a little surprised to hear that there are more people hurt by bison than by bears each year in Yellowstone. They just look so laid back and would seem to only be able to move very slowly. It was so surprising to hear that they can sprint three times faster than humans can run! The National Park Service puts reminders everywhere that every year visitors are gored and some have been killed. Their Wildlife Safety Videos includes a video of a guy getting gored after he stands behind a bush taunting a bison.
During the time I was there, I saw news reports about hikers getting hurt coming across them unexpectedly, but other times, it’s stupid people deliberately getting too close to get show-off selfies. Obviously, as this news report reminds us, Bison Selfies Are a Bad Idea.
I saw this girl near a visitor’s center walking toward this bison and I tried to tell her to get back, but she didn’t speak English and just kept smiling at me as I was waving her back.
“Bison Jams” are pretty common events on Yellowstone roads, but it is always recommended that people stay in their cars – not like this guy with no easy place to run to if that big bison started chasing him.
And remember – they always have the right of way!
When I was pulled off on the side of the road to wash my windshield, this coyote must have passed right by me because I was right at the front of this trail and I just “felt” him as he went by and just barely had time to reach in to get my camera before he disappeared.
My main disappointment was in never being able to spot a wolf, despite stopping several times at an overlook where I was told they were frequently seen. But I really have nothing to complain about since I saw a lot more animals than a lot of people I heard from.
More animal encounters: