Why do Bison Keep Attacking People at Yellowstone?

Recently, a bison attacked and gored a 72-year-old visitor to Yellowstone National Park. Then, according to Morgan Warthin, public affairs specialist at Yellowstone, the bison simply rejoined the herd and walked away.

Bison injured five people in Yellowstone National Park in 2015 and one in 2017. Now, this is the second incident in 2018. Why do these dangerous incidents with wild animals keep happening at national parks? Here are four potential reasons:

Bison Bison at Yellowstone National Park. Officials urge visitors to stay at least 25 yards from wild animals, or 100 yards for predators. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

1. Increased tourism in national parks
More than 4 million people visited Yellowstone in 2017, and according to Yellowstone stats, attendance has been on an upward trend for decades. National Parks across the country are seeing record attendance as well. More people means more chances for accidents to occur.


2. A lack of awareness of wild animal interaction

“Interacting with wildlife” is not a standard part of public school curriculum, but maybe it should be.

Tourists may not understand how different wild animals are from their domestic counterparts, and may treat them like friendly pets or extra-hairy livestock. “[Tourists are] familiar with going to the zoo, or spending time with dogs, and that’s not wildlife,” Warthin said. “As we know it’s hard to break out of your familiar.” Bison are closely related to cattle, and although both species’ can be dangerous, bison are more likely to charge people with little warning.

However, Yellowstone does what it can to teach people how to attend the park safely and respectfully, issuing many warnings to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from all other animals. In the recent goring case, the group of people were only 15 feet away from the herd, according to KTVQ.

3. Social media

If you’re going to climb a mountain, you might as well take a selfie at the top. With the increasing popularity of social media, people seek more wild experiences and often engage in activities that are more dangerous than they look, all for the Instagram story. When it comes to wild animals, who doesn’t want a cool vid for The Dodo?

According to the High Country News essay “Death in the Alpine,” social media affects how people perceive nature. When you see that 8-second clip of someone jumping their snowboard off a ramp or feeding a wild llama, you don’t see the whole story, including the context or the training that may have gone into that event. Getting excited about making that viral video might mean that some people don’t prepare enough.

4. Animals are just like that sometimes

“Bison are wild animals and unpredictable at best,” Warthin explained. “Sometimes they will react if visitors get too close, and sometimes they will not.”

In May, a hiker simply turned a corner and accidentally came upon a bison, who head-butted her. There are many factors that may lead an animal to attack or ignore a pedestrian, such as hormones, or seeing a predator nearby, or an unseen injury. Because it’s so difficult to understand what an animal is thinking—especially an animal that you don’t personally know—it’s safer to keep your distance.