MAMMOTH, Wyoming– There’s a rule at Yellowstone National Park: You see wildlife, you admire wildlife, you stay 25 yards away from wildlife.
That’s not how Sunday panned out for one woman, though, said Jody Tibbitts, a veteran nature guide with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris.
He was leading a group through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming when he saw an elk in the wilderness. The safari group pulled off the road to capture some photos.
At the same time, a woman not with the tour group quickly approached the elk by foot. She appeared to be holding up a mobile device in a video captured by Tibbitts’ videographer, Manny Perez.
Tibbitts called to the woman, telling her not to get any closer, when the animal charged.
Perez recorded the moment when the elk started running toward the unidentified woman, who fell and avoided being struck.
“She fell down before the elk came close enough to hitting her, and when that happened the elk backed away,” Tibbitts said.
A female elk can weigh as much as 500 pounds, which means the animal can cause serious injuries, even death, if it feels its offspring have been threatened, Tibbitts said.
The 45-year-old, who has lived close to the national park his whole life, said he has noticed a shift in the way people behave with wildlife.
“Prior to having high definition cameras in our pockets, people seemed more courteous to animals,” said Tibbitts, who has been a tour guide for 25 years. “It seems like people are being more brave and taking more chances and not thinking about the consequences.”
Yellowstone National Park published an advisory on its Facebook page days before the elk incident, urging park visitors to stay vigilant.
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“Be careful out there: elk calving season has begun! Elk sometimes hide their calves in unexpected places, and defend them aggressively,” the post reads.
People gone wild
There have been a number of incidents of visitors interacting badly with wild animals at the park in the last year.
Earlier in May, visitors with misplaced intentions put a newborn bison calf in their car because they feared it was cold. When park officials tried to reunite the animal with its herd, the calf was rejected. It later had to be euthanized because it was abandoned.
“Its sad conclusion highlights the importance of keeping a safe distance from park wildlife,” park officials said on Facebook.
In May 2015, a 16-year-old girl from Taiwan was gored by a bison while posing for a group photo.
“The girl turned her back to the bison to have her picture taken when the bison lifted its head, took a couple steps and gored her,” the Park Service said at the time.
The teenager suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Even natural gems at the park have been marred by tourists. In 2014, a visitor crashed a drone into the park’s largest hot spring. The unmanned aircraft are prohibited from all Park Service-controlled areas throughout the country.
Tibbitts, who has spent almost every summer of his life at Yellowstone, wants to avoid situations that put animals and people at risk. He said he hopes visitors can learn to respect wildlife.
As for the woman in the video, Tibbitts said she was physically fine after her close encounter with the elk, but he couldn’t say the same thing about her feelings.
“I think it was her pride that was hurt the most,” he said.