We all know that petting the largest wild land animal in North America is not a good idea, right? No, apparently we don’t. The Centers for Disease Control reported that injuries from Yellowstone bison have spiked, with five documented in three months alone last year, May, June, and July.

Pedestrian injuries from bison were a big problem for the national park in the early 1980s. Between 1983 and 1985, there were 33 injuries. The alarmed park quickly launched a successful information campaign warning people to stay away from these rather big-1,400 pounds or so-and unpredictable creatures. By the period 2010 to 2014, the park averaged just 0.8 a year.

But then came the era of social media and selfies.


An incident last July is typical of the trend.

A woman and her daughter “were by the trailhead sign when they decided to take a picture with a bison that was approximately six yards away from them near the trail,” the park reported. “When they turned their backs to the bison to take the picture, someone warned that they were too close. They heard the bison’s footsteps moving toward them and started to run, but the bison caught the mother on the right side, lifted her up and tossed her with its head. The woman’s father covered her with his body to protect her and the bison moved about three yards away. The family drove to the Old Faithful Clinic, where the woman was treated and released with minor injuries.”

“The family said they read the warnings in both the park literature and the signage, but saw other people close to the bison, so they thought it would be okay,” said Colleen Rawlings, the Old Faithful district ranger. “People need to recognize that Yellowstone wildlife is wild, even though they seem docile. This woman was lucky that her injuries were not more severe.”


The park recommends visitors stay at least 75 feet from bison. Of the three who were attacked when taking photographs last year, the average distance was between three and six feet. Three and six feet. The woman seen petting the bison in the video below is lucky she’s still in one piece.

She might not have luck with the law, though. The Park Service is investigating her actions and may press charges.

Park Public Affairs spokeswoman Amy Bartlett confirmed the investigation and said, “When you harass wildlife, you could face a citation or a mandatory appearance in front of a federal magistrate.”

Photo by Clément Cousin


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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.