How Yellowstone National Park’s social media staff is handling a crisis

Bison.

Bison at Yellowstone National Park. Photo from YNP Facebook page.

The staff at Yellowstone National Park is handling a public relations problem concerning a bison calf and doing it rather well. You can see the evidence for yourself on their Facebook page.

To recap, two tourists spotted a starving and weak bison calf in the park and  loaded it into the back of their SUV rental in an attempt to find care for it. The problem is such an act of compassion is against law, park regulations and common sense.

Because the calf — abandoned by its mother — had imprinted on humans, the park staff had no choice but to put it down.

This action has resulted in a social media firestorm on the YNP Facebook page.
Folks, keep wildlife wild. I know it is tough at times, and it just hurts us to see animals suffering, but that’s nature. Bison newborns are sometimes abandoned by their mother and herd. The poor critters die, but then the coyotes and wolves and eagles can feed their newborns. Look up “circle of life.”
I urge those passing judgment on YNP staff to consider the following responses left by the park’s social media team on Facebook. They are a great example of communicating natural resource issues to a public that may be ignorant and hostile.
In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis. No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.
We do not have a rehab center, nor is it our priority to rescue individual animals. Our mission is to preserve the ecological processes of Yellowstone, and even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.
Since Yellowstone bison carry brucellosis, federal and state laws prohibit their shipment outside the park. This calf would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis, and no approved quarantine facilities exist at this time.
Rangers tried for two days to haze the bison away from the road and toward other groups of nearby bison, but were unsuccessful. The calf had fully imprinted on people and cars.
The management of wild animals sometimes requires decisions that may seem harsh if you focus on an individual. But when you focus on populations of animals, and the ecological processes that sustain them, things like a bison losing or abandoning a calf is part of the fabric this ecosystem. It’s unfortunate that these visitors intervened: the calf may have been found by its mother, but it’s also likely that the calf would have died naturally of starvation or predation.
The bison calf was not removed from the landscape: it was left out of sight where predators, scavengers, and other animals could take advantage of it.
YNP staff is not getting defensive, just explaining the reasons for the action. I applaud their courage in responding to some of the posts on the page. This is a teachable moment. Of course, there are those that will never accept the word of government employees regardless of the facts. Unfortunately, comments have denigrated into name calling, insults and flame wars. YNP generally is letting people rant. I’m sure the staff is getting death threats. I’ve been in similar situations before. My heart goes out to them.
Four lessons I wish people to take away from this post:
  1. Keep wildlife wild. Leave it alone. It’s hard to do, I know, but it must be done.
  2. Visiting a park? Leave no trace. Learn and know the rules.
  3. Before passing judgment, get the facts and give the benefit of a doubt to folks even if they work for government.
  4. If you don’t like a government action, it’s okay to be critical and voice displeasure. Just do so without name calling and vitriol.