Monday, March 16, 2009

Darwin Award Candidate

I came upon this photograph on the internet and it brought back memories of Yellowstone. Not that we had lions in Yellowstone, we didn’t. But we did have "Darwin Award Winners" like this individual.

We would frequently happen upon visitors who were testing the limits of the very tolerant animals in the park. People would wander too close to bears, bison, moose, elk and even deer, in the hopes of getting a really good photograph. Very seldom was it the professional photographer, or knowledgeable amateur. They had good lenses. It was always the goober with the Kodak Instamatic.

The standard rule we adhered to was, "If the animal notices you or your movements, then you are too close." A number of times I had to approach an animal that was near the trail or boardwalk because of some requirement of the job. I was armed with bear spray, and even more important, armed with respect and fear. If a bison or bear raised it’s head and looked in my direction, it was time to stop and back off. Each species, each individual animal has a different tolerance level. As you might imagine, any animal with offspring has a tolerance level that is much different than that same animal at another time.

A lot of Yellowstone Park critters are much different than similar animals elsewhere in the Park or in the National Forest. Many animals, such as elk, are habituated to the presence of humans and tolerate large numbers of them standing around them, taking pictures while the critter grazes or naps. An elk whose habitat is a few hundred miles away outside the park, where hunting is legal, or in the interior of the park, far away from roads has absolutely no tolerance for the presence of humans and you would rarely see them unless you were separated by hundreds of yards.

Some of you have no doubt seen the video that is on display at the Canyon Visitors’s Center in Yellowstone. It shows a man getting too close to a bison. He is taking a picture and uses a small lodgepole pine to shield him from the animal. The bison takes no notice of him and the man gets a little closer, snapping away. In no more than two seconds the bison looks up, charges and impales the man on it’s horns, throws him into the lodgepole, and goes back to grazing. It is a very powerful video. And it was always amazing to those of us who worked in the park, how stupidly close visitors would get to animals and in most cases, how amazingly tolerant the animals were.

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