Yellowstone National Park Bison Unhappy With Photo Shoot Tosses Pennsylvania Boy

Yellowstone National Park bison, while decidedly photogenic, should not be used as props in family photos. NPS photo.

A 12-year-old Pennsylvania boy has been hospitalized after a Yellowstone National Park bison, evidently perturbed that he was part of a family photo shoot, tossed the boy about 10 feet into the air.

While park regulations dictate that visitors get no closer than within 25 yards of bison, and no more than 100 yards of bears and wolves, the family reportedly was standing within 2 feet of the bison while trying to take the picture this morning. Visitors reportedly warned the family they were too close to the bison.

The incident occurred just off the trail adjacent to the Uncle Tom’s Trail parking lot along the South Rim Drive of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The bull’s horns did not puncture the boy, and the only outward injuries he suffered were abrasions possibly received from hitting the ground after the fall. However, the boy complained of abdominal pain and so was transported by ambulance to the Lake Clinic and then flown to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

The name and hometown of the injured juvenile aren’t being released. His current condition is not available.


Why can't people use their heads? I'm glad this child wasn't more seriously injured.

This is the kind of irresponsibility that eventually ruins a visit to the Parks for the rest of us. How long before someone decides that we have to stay 100 yards away from bison too, not just from bears?

The bison have had a very rough time of it; they were upset in the winter. Don't be surprised if we see more of this; it's been a very traumatic time between the slaughter and the hard winter.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

The moron parade through our treasured National Parks continues. These parents should be put on a month of volunteer duty, wearing a sandwich board and walking up and down the park roads warning of the dangers of getting too close to wildlife (and the dangers of bad parenting).

Wasn't there an even bigger dumbbell several years back who tried to place his toddler ON the big fluffy buffalo?

The parents are complete idiots and should be arrested and prosecuted for child endangerment. They should also be sent to reading remediation so they can understand all the posted signs warning against getting too close to the WILD animals.

People who are totally irresponsible should be punished. A hefty fine is in order ! Even if you don't have any common sense, there are warnings everywhere. People cannot be protected from their stupidity but they sure as heck can pay for it !!! Wildlife are wild and should not have to pay the ultimate price for stupid humans.

These parents have moved into first place for the dumb moron award of the year.

Running a strong second, however, is the comment by Jim MacDonald above. Jim, the bison did have a hard winter, that tends to happen in Yellowstone now and then. Bison calf recruitment has been superb this year, the herd is feasting and reveling in the forage this cool, wet spring, and numbers have not been depressed near to the levels your organization claims.

I'm a full time park ranger, back country in the season, and I'd suggest you get your facts straight. I've read through your blog and your other sites; frankly we don't need another carpet bagger moving to the West and telling everyone how the cow ate the cabbage. Working in the park for five summers grants you some insights others don't have, but it's obvious that there's a great deal about the park you're quite wrong on.

As tempting as it is to anthromoporphize human emotions onto the bison, this child wasn't bumped because the bison are frustrated and they were traumatized this past winter. He was thrown because he was violated the animals sense of protective space and persisted there.

Your credibility has gone to zero with the park staff, and there will be more factual counterpoints to your misdirected commentary in the future. Please exercise your freedom of speech, we'll simply do the same so that people who love Yellowstone and all it offers won't be thrown off track.

Possibly the bison, seeing the decline of the human species, was doing his best to cull the herd and allow only the less common sensically challenged to survive.

When will people realize that this area is not a petting zoo, but is populated by wild animals? Cute and fuzzy. Right.

In the National Military Parks in the East, relic hunters will have their vehicles confiscated. Possibly the Western parks should consider something similar for those intrusive on an animal's space. A couple of hefty bills for emergency personnel, transportation and services, well publicized, may discourage this type of foolish activity.

Thanks Cindy K for telling it like it is to Mr MacDonald. The bison attacked the kid because it stepped past the boundaries of its comfort zone. Though I've never been in the mind of a bison, but I'm pretty certain that it didn't feel all the pent up frustration from the past winter and the subsequent hardships that followed ultimately resulting in an exposive outburst of rage against the unfortunate victim. It seems to me that we have another east-coast transplant that "found" the west and is now going to tell the world his philosophical views through his big city eyes how things "really are" back here in the rugged west. Please Jim, if you could...go back to DC and tell the tourists there not to walk too close to the wildlife in the ghettos because they've had a rough winter and they feel stressed out. By the way, I grew up in Montana, spent alot of time in the back country in close proximity to wild animals, etc. Now I live on the east coast and I'm constantly amazed by the warped views and misconceptions that people in the city have about so many aspects of life in the west in general. I can't wait to get back home to Montana were people have a bit more common sense. Can't wait to here more of your posts Jim!

Cindy K.,

We look forward to some hard numbers from NPS. What we have seen are counts that NPS sends out that say right up front that they are not population estimates. We would like to see those estimates and transparency on the method used to determine undercount.

Even by what's coming out from the NPS press office, the numbers were at 2100 (a handy number for the IBMP), which is still significantly over half the herd dead from the previous fall.

As for the emotions of buffalo, I am not qualified to say. I have heard others who have said that buffalo will return to the same site that loved ones died for years after the fact and seen video footage suggesting as much. There's no doubt that the boy and the family violated the bison's sense of space. Now, if only the Park Service and the IBMP partners would stop doing the same. Then, we wouldn't have these kinds of discussions.

We look forward to a direct conversation with park staff about what's happening with buffalo. It's better than being ignored and having the slaughter and hazing program continue.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

A p.s. on this,

It also behoove us to have a frank discussion of the facts, the legal requirements, and the ethics of the situation without the kind of thing in your response to me. Your appeal to your authority as a ranger is not relevant to establishing the facts about actual bison numbers and the issues of right and wrong regarding the bison slaughter and hazing policy. My being a carpetbagger is also not relevant to the issue either - I don't and never would claim to have all the information regarding the bison - certainly not from five years working for a park concessionaire selling junk mostly made overseas. One's appeal to authority or the ad hominem used to show that someone is not an authority is not relevant; what is relevant is the policy itself, how that policy is actually affecting buffalo, and whether that policy is right or wrong.

Is it right or wrong that 1,613 buffalo were either sent to slaughter or hunted during the past winter? Outside of the buffalo killed by Native Americans asserting their treaty rights, all the others killed were ostensibly under the management of IBMP partners, most of which this winter happened at the Stephen's Creek capture facility? Is that factually correct? Even the Montana hunt was directed by the FWP, an IBMP partner.

Is it right or wrong that another 100 plus buffalo calves were sent to the quarantine facility near Corwin Springs?

Is it right or wrong that hundreds of buffalo were held for much of the spring in the Stephens Creek capture facility inside of Yellowstone National Park? Were they fed hay? Were buffalo born there? How many miscarriages were there?

Is it right or wrong that more than half the herd from the previous fall is now dead? What are those numbers? Where is the research and the methodology used to determine those numbers? Our group has not posted an exact number - statements from me are not statements for the group. Robert Hoskins reports that non-park people doing their own counts - whose methodology I also haven't seen - are coming up with numbers are lower than the 2,100 that have come out from the Park Service. It would be helpful for us carpetbaggers - as well as local people who have worked on this issue for decades in some instances - to have access to those facts so we don't have to trust the word of someone simply based on their ranger experience.

Now, I have a genuine legal question I don't have the answer to - what is the contractual obligation of the NPS under the IBMP? What I mean is, can NPS pull out of the IBMP? What are the penalties for pulling out? How does the IBMP ever end?

And, here's another question that might either be scientific or ethical or both - is numbers the only way to measure damage to the bison herds? You criticized me for anthropomorphizing buffalo, and yet that only begs the question of what effects slaughter, hazing, herd reduction and disruption, and winter have on the psychology of bison and the sociology of bison herds. What is the disruption, what is the damage, how might that affect the behavior of individual bison? What studies can you point to so that we could be better informed about this? If I shouldn't see a connection between the context of what happens to the buffalo by the government in the winter and what happens with tourists in the summer, then you point to me research why that is. And, ethically speaking, what other damage is at stake here in understanding the IBMP?

We can have this discussion, the moron carpetbagger and the group he belongs to and the seasoned veteran ranger and the National Park Service - we would welcome that discussion. The more that people understand what's going on, what could be going on, and what should be going on, then we'd all be better off.

In the meantime, we all agree that families from Pennsylvania and elsewhere should not be posing for pictures 1 to 2 feet from buffalo for the safety of themselves, the animals, and a whole host of other reasons as well. Still, I fail to see why I shouldn't be curious whether there's more to this story than that. Why shouldn't we wonder if there isn't also a connection to the summer buffalo annoyed by tourists to that same winter buffalo suffering under the IBMP.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Cindy K;
And where do you come from? What kind of 'education' school of hard knocks or other wise gives you the 'authority' to ridicule ANYONE?
Those Bison are conditioned year after year by 'you' Rangers, and DOL agents to despise any form of humans, with the incessant hazing and harassment of these majestic animals. I have lived with and among these animals (grizzlies included) for over 40 years, and I have to tell you they are way smarter than most humans, and especially the "Park Rangers". Your type of attitude does NOT belong in a National Park that is SWORN to PROTECT that which is within it's boundaries.
WHY didn't the Park TEST those Bison they so quickly hauled to the slaughterhouse? In 'your' own IBMP plan it states to test and slaughter ONLY the positive. Had 'you' done that, the supposed Brucellosis problem in the Bison could have been reduced. Instead 'you' slaughtered everything 'you' could get your 'hands' on. How is that PROTECTING? How is that Scientific?
The Park Service is nothing more than a pawn in the Cattleman Association's game. The Park service (when it comes to protecting the animals) are WORTHLESS.

Editor's note: Parts of this comment were deleted for gratuitous personal attacks. Everyone should focus their comments on substantive issues and not resort to personal attacks just because of a difference of opinion. Failing to maintain civility does no good.

KDoyle, I completely agree with you!

My feelings echo those of the previous contributors in that whoever made the decision to stand so close to the bison was the definition of stupidity. The question I have is who paid for the airlift and subsequent medical transportation? I would hope that the NPS sent any bill to the family as they were entirely responsible for this incident.

Gee, Cindy and Ann: Please Chill Out ! All this hostility cannot improve your objectivity. Ann, the NPS is NOT just a pawn of the Cattleman Association, as they are boxed in by a hostile Administration in the White House, whose favorite Governors are actively undermining NPS authority. So it is not an easy political environment for anyone to work in, especially people by profession NOT trained to be smart politically. And Cindy, you are a public servant, and need to develop some empathy for people devoted to your park. They cannot all be like you, and it undermines the Service when Rangers appear to be people-hating. Learn to temper your remarks, and try using some gentleness or a sense of humor.

The enemy are people who don't care, not those who do.

d-2; then you're telling me that if brucellosis wasn't a cattle disease the Park would still just slaughter at will? I think not. They are killing bison because of the cattle and for no other reason. In my opinion, they are being used by the cattlemen's association, and the Stock Growers, as pawns in the all out war to eliminate any competition for grass. Although this is really the wrong place to discuss the idotic policy of APHIS, it is more about the idiotic practices of tourists, and the Park Service allowing it to go unpunished. A thousand dollar fine per person involved in that 'photo' shoot would be a good start in sending a message to visitors, that there are rules in that Park and they are there for a reason.

One other point on this d-2, don't be too quick to put this only on Bush; this process started in earnest under Clinton. In terms of Montana's involvement, it's happened under both Republican and Democratic regimes. This is less about who rules the political machinery and a lot more about who controls the levers of that machinery. In Montana, the livestock industry has disproportionate political leverage based on their numbers and their value to the economy; in the IBMP, they control APHIS. As long as NPS as an agency - regardless of president - does not take a stronger stand against the industry, it's fair to say of it that it's a pawn. It's not a piece exercising it's own power; it's being exercised by someone else. In this case, facts show that livestock interests are controlling the politics and the pawns on the board.

But, the question remains - what is the relationship of policy that hurts animals and herd units in the winter with what they do in the summer. It still strikes me as hypocritical - not that hypocrites shouldn't speak - to call for tourists to stay away from wildlife when the agencies involved don't do the same and in fact bother them in much more profound ways. Of course, tourists should stay away from bison whether a hypocrite tells you or someone else; however, it does bring to light what else is wrong.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Well, Ann & Jim, just an example of how the NPS is being politically undermined in this process, in case you did not know it:

During the Clinton Administration (YES, the CLINTON ADMINISTRATION) the Congress went Republican. That meant Republicans got control of the NPS budget through the Appropriations Committee. The situation got so coercive that the Republican congressional staff member who controlled the NPS budget in the House of Representative tuned the Clinton's own Assistant Secretary for Budget and Administration into a total wimp, to do her bidding, because she could control ALL the money going into all the Department of the Interior agencies, including paying for this guy's office, and his boss' office.

NPS still had some discretion over its budget in those days. When the brucellosis thing hit, NPS used funds taken from its construction budget to do the scientific analysis for the "EIS," without which NPS would have had no basis to fight the Cattlemen or the States. Here is how that Republican congressional staffer shut the NPS freedom of action down:

Using the guise of using the "outhouse" cost overrun scandal [ a new-age experimental design of an outhouse that took no maintenance, and was to be a "green" building, and like a lot of experiments went several times over budget to end up costing almost $1 M, a PR disaster but actually a much smaller issue than what it was deliberately made into ], this congressional staffer forced a reorganization of the access to the funding for all projects in all parks. Any discretionary spending was eliminated, and all projects when through this tyrant's hands. Congress set up a commission to recommend how the reorganization should happen, and designated up to half the membership by NPS people. Well, the wimp Asst. Secretary was so intimidated by the congressional staff tyrant that he prevented the NPS from having ANY seats on the commission about how the money would be spent.

Needless to say, this staffer from Scranton with very little knowledge or park experience micro managed the NPS. No more discretionary funding from project money was availabe to the NPS. That means, when NPS needs to turn on a dime to deal with attacks and challenges, it first had to go through the committee and wait over a year to spend the funding. Even funds raised through fees came through her control, and fee projects took months to approve. The next thing she did was to even get control of FINANCIAL GIFTS TO THE NPS, by insisting that projects funded by donations over a certain amount first needed her permission to go forward. In other words, the Appropriations Committee -- which means this one staffer -- even had control over funds that did not come from tax-payers dollars, and were not appropriated. She had the flimsiest justification that anything NPS takes on may become financially overwhelming and ultimately require bailing out by the appropriations, so she should approve all in advance. And since bureaucrats in Washington who opposed her got investigated and ones who supported her got promoted [example: mary bomar & sue masica] the result is NPS has no real discretionary control any more.

So, that is what happened to the discretionary source of funding used imaginatively by NPS leaders to take on the brucellosis challenge.

Have you noticed what happens to Yellowstone superintendents who fight back? Do you not think Senator Thomas and others made Mike Finley learn he was unwelcome? Finley is still young enough to be superintendent, but he is long out of the NPS. How many superintendents have there been at Yellowstone since the '90's?

Even during the Clinton administration, they couldn't handle the pressure. When the outcry against Babbitt as secretary, who was taking on intrenched interests in the West, got so much that Clinton couldn't handle it (after all, Clinton was on the defensive through most of his Presidency) he even tried to get rid of Babbitt by MOVING HIM TO THE SUPREME COURT ! But they say Babbitt had antagonized so many in the Senate that Clinton learned he could not push Babbitt out that way. But the bottom line is, with the Republicans in conrol of the money, there was little Babbitt could do, and the NPS had virtually no discretion in use of its funding. This kind of micro-management is a new phenom, and it really changes things.

Or does all this just escape you, that NPS is losing the political power it once had?

I think NPS would love to fight the Cattlemen head on, and without the environmental supporters, the park would have no leverage at all.

Some of us have gotten way of topic here ! Another discussion whould be more appropriate for the "let the wildlife roam" topic, which by the way I do support !

This discussion is about the stupidity and recklessness of some tourists. Why can't the superintendent of Yellowstone set fines for such behaviour ? These people should be fined AND pay for all the emergency services they required. Some people do not pay attention until the issue hits them in the checkbook. Can these kind of rules be made by the local NPS ?

I hear that the diesease is actually coming from the ELK and that info is from a park employee. He said it has to do with the almighty green in that the Elk bring in too much money during hunting season so they wont slaughter the elk. Said its very policital. So because of the almighty green is the Bison that suffer. Supposidly park service knows of this and is going along with it. Slaughering innocent bison.
Also, whats to say that animals DON'T have emotions??? I think people try to tell themselves they dont because it makes it easier on them in situations like this to try to care less.
I saw a bird with a broken wing flopping along side of the road and said out loud "oh thats sad..." A tour guide spoke up and said "thats nature folks" in a snotty way...I replied " if we treated ourselves the same way I"d feel better about it" We get a sniffle and we are at the doctors, we break an arm and someone fixes it, but when it happens to an animal, its nature. We have removed ourselves so far from nature we forget that we are in fact part of it.
Let the Bison live. At least test to see if they are positive.

Back on the original topic:

1. Thankfully it doesn't sound like the child was seriously hurt, since the parents were primarily the ones at fault.
2. Earlier comments about the irresponsible parents are right on target.
3. Legal action against the parents would certainly be justified, but my guess is it's unlikely to occur, since it would appear in some circles to be uncaring in light of the child's injuries.
4. We can only hope any media coverage of this situation will help reinforce the need to follow sensible guidelines when viewing wildlife.