Even for a park with a history of unhappy encounters between people and wildlife, 2015 is shaping up as an eventful year for Yellowstone and its bison. Since mid-May, five visitors have been hurt – gored, trampled or tossed into the air – in run-ins with the park’s most famous residents.
The tourists all came away with treatable wounds. For the bison, however, the year’s brushes with humans did not always end as well. Since January, more than 500 of the woolly beasts – the most in years – have been chased on to trucks by government workers and hauled to slaughterhouses. Some 200 others that wandered off park grounds were rounded up in a similar fashion or stalked by hunters and shot. Next year’s numbers are expected to be still higher, a consequence of a surging population and strict rules that park officials themselves find difficult to carry out.
“It is hard to watch,” said Rick Wallen, Yellowstone’s lead wildlife biologist for bison, describing the methods used to capture and restrain the animals. “But we do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The culling is a routine, if little-known, facet of managing Yellowstone’s roughly 4,900 bison, the biggest and wildest repository of descendants of the herds that once roamed the US plains. To keep bison numbers in check, workers spend the winter months corralling those venturing near the park’s northern entrance, keeping them in pens until they can be shipped to nearby meatpacking plants.
Yet, despite expensive control efforts, the herd continues to swell. Management plans call for capping the number of bison at about, 3,000, but the park’s population could soon approach twice that level. Restricted from relocating the animals to private lands, the park and its bison face an acute shortage of options.
Park officials are pushing for changes, including possibly easing limits on moving disease-free animals to new locations. Favouring this is a diverse coalition of groups, including wildlife enthusiasts opposed to any killing of bison and Native Americans who want to start their own herds.
The most controversial animal killings
The most controversial animal killings
1/6 Cincinnati Zoo worker shots and kills Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla
Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla was shot and killed by a Cincinnati Zoo worker after a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure and was grabbed and dragged by Harambe. The incident was recorded on video and received broad international coverage and commentary, including controversy over the choice to kill Harambe. A number of primatologists and conservationists wrote later that the zoo had no other choice under the circumstances, and that it highlighted the danger of zoo animals in close proximity to humans and the need for better standards of care
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
2/6 Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion (pictured here with another lion shot in Africa)
Walter James Palmer has been named by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force as the shooter of Cecil, a 13-year-old prized lion. He is now wanted by Zimbabwe officials on poaching charges. The lion was protected and the subject of a decade long study by the Wildlife Unit of Oxford University in the UK. He was outfitted with a GPS collar and was killed in Hwange National Park. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that two men were charged with poaching in connection to Mr Palmer
3/6 Kendall Jones hunting images
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech university student, has provoked worldwide fury after posting pictures of herself smiling next to animals she hunted, including a lion, rhinoceros, antelope, leopard, elephant, zebra and hippopotamus
4/6 Rebecca Francis hunting images
Rebecca Francis, a huntress who has killed dozens of wild animals has been sent death wishes by furious social media users after a picture showing her lying down next to a dead giraffe was circulated. Rebecca Francis has a website and Facebook page dedicated to the animals she has killed in hunts across Africa and America. Francis, a prolific hunter who has also co-hosted the television show Eye of the Hunter, regularly posts pictures of herself posing next to dead bears, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, among other animals. She uses a bow and arrow to kill her prey
5/6 The slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo
Copenhagen Zoo made the controversial decision to euthanise a healthy giraffe named Marius, which was later dissected and fed to lions as visitors watched. The slaughter sparked a furious backlash from social media users and zoo staff have received death threats by phone and email. Soon after the incident, Copenhagen Zoo faced an international outcry once again after four healthy lions were put down
6/6 Swiss Dählhölzli zoo kills healthy brown bear cub
A Switzerland zoo faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups, after keepers put down a healthy brown bear cub to spare it from being bullied by its dominant male father. The 360 kg male bear Misha had already killed one of his 11-week old cubs in public and was bullying the second, staff at the zoo said, because he was jealous of the attention the cubs were receiving from their mother, Masha. Both adult brown bears had been donated to Bern’s Dählhölzli zoo in 2009. Campaigners condemned staff there for not separating the cubs, who are being referred to as Baby Bear Two and Baby Bear Three, and their mother from Misha after their birth in January
The Obama administration has acknowledged the need for a major overhaul. Park officials, with heavy support from wildlife advocates, are pushing for the adoption by next year of new rules that would include alternatives to converting these wild bison into ground meat.
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