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Don’t Pet the Fluffy Cows


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Don’t Pet the Fluffy Cows

Commentary by Becky Tallent

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It is almost enough to nominate someone for a Darwin Award (yes, there really is such a tongue-in-cheek award online at https://darwinawards.com).

People visiting parks or other wildlife areas decide they want a selfie with an elk, or they want to pet a buffalo. What could go wrong, right?

Many people are now finding out — from being chased, injured and/or paying large fines — bothering wildlife has consequences.

Lately, there have been videos of visitors trying to pet or take selfies with buffalo or other wild animals in parks such as Yellowstone. On Memorial Day weekend, a man loaded a baby elk into his car and drove it to a Yellowstone ranger station, where the calf ran off. The whereabouts of the calf are unknown, rangers are investigating why the man picked up the animal.

In another case, a buffalo calf had to be euthanized after Clifford Walters of Hawaii pushed it out of a river. The herd rejected the calf after the incident. Although the rangers tried to reunite the calf with its herd, those efforts failed, leaving killing it as the only option.

In addition to pleading guilty in U.S. District Court, Walters had to pay a $500 fine and pay $500 toward a community service payment for the Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund.

Although watching videos of apparently clueless visitors getting chased by wildlife while trying to take a selfie can be funny, there is a very serious side to it beyond the health of the visiting humans.

“Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in some cases, their survival,” Yellowstone Park officials said in a June 1 press release. “When an animal is near a campsite, trail, boardwalk, parking lot, on a road, or in a developed area, leave it alone and give it space.”

Visitors are encouraged to stay at least 25 yards away from most wild animals (including deer, elk and bison) in the park and 100 yards away from bears and wolves. They are also asked to watch out for wildlife on park roads. Two black bears were killed by drivers in separate incidents on May 28 in Yellowstone. An elk and a bison were also struck and killed by cars his year.

Of course, many people ignore the rules or think “just this once.”

Fluffy Cows Poster
National Park Service Poster

This is why the National Park Service developed funny — but serious — slogan, “Don’t Pet the Fluffy Cows: Think Safety, Act Safely.”

While admittedly funny, the slogan serves a purpose to keep both humans and the animals safe with the message: Stay away from each other. It also helps the Parks Service point out that is against the law to touch, feed, tease, frighten or otherwise interfere with the animals.

For perspective about the danger: Adult bison are generally between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, four to six feet high and they have horns along with very large shoulders. Getting headbutted, stomped or skewered can cause serious injury and/or death.

The same is true of other wild animals: bears can maul, elks can charge causing serious injuries, moose are very large and can do all the above. Even “friendly” rabbits can bite, and deer can carry ticks which carry Lyme disease.

Before anyone thinks people hassling park animals is a new post-COVID problem, it is one the National Parks Service has been dealing with for 100 years. People ignore the rules, they can then find themselves injured — or worse — when trying to pet or goad a wild animal.

I get it — as moral people we want to show compassion for animals when we think they are stuck or are in danger. But we need to realize our “help” is dangerous to the animal, if not ourselves.

When visiting a national park, enjoy the scenery and — safely — enjoy watching the animals. Still, it is a safe bet that someone, someday will be the recipient of a Darwin Award for ignoring the National Parks Service warnings.

Becky Tallent
Becky Tallent
An award-winning journalist and public relation professional, Rebecca "Becky" Tallent was a journalism faculty member at the University of Idaho for 13 years before her retirement in 2019. Tallent earned her B.A. and M.Ed. degrees in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma and her Educational Doctorate in Mass Communications from Oklahoma State University. She is of Cherokee descent and is a member of both the Indigenous Journalists Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. She and her husband, Roger Saunders, live in Moscow, Idaho, with their two cats.




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Lynn Kaylor

It also requires a basic watchfulness because you can never be completely sure whether a bison or other wild critter lurks behind that outcrop at the bend of the trail. Not all of those touchy wild creatures are big either. I’m reminded of a friend, (I’ll call him “Bob”) who excelled at fishing but lacked much intelligence otherwise. He was picking apricots in a Nevada orchard and didn’t even try to pose for any wildlife pictures. Bob reached for what he thought was an apricot only to learn that it was a wasp who didn’t appreciate being squeezed with the affection of an older brother. You can imagine what happened. Bob scrambled down from that tree and into the house while an old horse whinnied a laugh that wouldn’t quit.. After that, we’d ask, “Now Bob, which apricots do you NOT pick?”

“The STRI-ped ones!”

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