Bison: Just because they eat grass doesn’t mean they won’t kill you

Don’t take a selfie with a bison. Just don’t do it.
Don’t take a selfie with a bison. Just don’t do it.
Image: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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On Tuesday, July 22, a 43-year-old woman and her six-year-old daughter were snapping a selfie in front of a wild bison in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park when the animal charged.

The mom, who had her back turned to the bison as it stood less than six yards away, attempted to run but was overtaken and bucked several feet into the air, the Associated Press reports. She sustained minor injuries, and was treated at a clinic nearby.

This was the fifth person injured in a bison encounter at Yellowstone this summer.

“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 Yellowstone ranger Colleen Rawlings in a release published by park officials. “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.”

Bovines have a positive PR problem. The general docility of your average dairy cow is not representative of how the rest of the subfamily operates; and so Yellowstone hikers apparently think it’s perfectly safe to get all up in a bison’s grill.

Early American pioneers would tell you a different story. In the days when bison were in abundance across the Great Plains, “they were rated second only to the Alaska brown bear as a potential killer, more dangerous than a grizzly bear,” according to the US National Parks Service.

Their numbers have been depleted significantly since those days—which is another reason to keep your distance. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are only about 15,000 American bison living in the wild.

The male bull bison are particularly aggressive during rutting (mating) season, which runs from June through September—conveniently aligning with peak tourism season in Yellowstone. It is during this period that “the herd exhibits much restlessness during breeding season the animals are belligerent, unpredictable and most dangerous.”

Another grumpy member of Bovinae is the African or Cape buffalo. Also known as the “Black Death” or “widowmaker,” Cape buffalo are widely considered among the deadliest animals in continental Africa—killing more people per year than crocodiles, lions, or leopards. “Cape buffalo have been known to charge victims without provocation,” according to the Conservation Institute. “These creatures will continue charging even if they are shot in the heart, and have no reservations about charging vehicles.” They have been known to transform the hunters into the hunted, attacking apex carnivores like lions, and even stalking and ambushing human poachers.

Moral of the story: just because it walks like a cow, and moos like a cow, doesn’t mean you can tip it. Or take a selfie with it. Just stay away from bison, people. They don’t smell that great anyway.