If you have visited a variety of national parks, then you know that Yellowstone Park has one unique characteristic.  Where else in the world can you see such an abundance and variety of wildlife just by driving or hiking through the park? Where else can you see bison, elk, coyote, bears and wolves in their natural environments?

 This can be both a curse and blessing. If you are unlucky, you can get caught in a bison jam and spend an hour in backed-up traffic. You can also be approached quite closely by the bison, so keep your windows shut!

Keep calm, do not make any aggressive movements, and kept your car at an even pace.  Some rules: One, move slowly and cautiously when driving through a bison herd. Two, don’t yell out the window or turn up your music to death-defying decibels. And, three, maintain respect and distance. These are large, quick animals that just want to get from one place to another.

There have been motorists who did not follow these rules. For instance, at least one large and fast-moving motor home has come barreling up. The bison reacted by trying to move the car next to him with his horns. (Try explaining horn holes in the car door to your insurance agent.) 

Talking with a Park Ranger can put this into a new perspective. New visitors to Yellowstone can fall into two categories:  being scared and being reckless. Being too scared to leave your car to stroll around a boardwalk makes a poor park experience. So can reckless behavior.  Many parents just don’t know that their small children act and sound like prey. A baby in a back-pack crying over an unexpected bug bite can sound just like a small, hurt animal.

During August and September, the bison and elk ruts begin. Large bulls that have been complacently grazing are going to become more aggressive and territorial. Yelling and pounding sticks against trees could easily be interrupted as a challenge, not just an annoyance to these testosterone-fueled bulls. Set a good example by following these basic guidelines for observing, photographing and interacting with wildlife. 

  1.  Use Good Judgment
    ·Never approach or follow wild animals; respect their need for space. This includes not following fresh tracks.
    ·Do not block their line of travel or escape routes.
    ·Keep a safe distance from large animals (100 feet / 30 meters - the length of three buses - is recommended).
    ·Use a telephoto lens, spotting scope and binoculars to get "close".
    ·Pull well off the road with your vehicle to prevent motor vehicle accidents.
    ·A vehicle also makes a good "blind" for watching animals, if you stay inside.
    ·Respect the special needs of nesting birds, denning animals & newborn or young animals - leave them alone.
    ·Elk can be particularly aggressive during calving season (May / Jun) and mating season (Sep / Oct).
    ·Do not park your car within 100 feet / 30 meters of a male elk. They've been known to bend fenders or worse.
  2. Avoid These Activities that Cause Stress in Animals
    ·Herding animals into a better scene.
    ·Approaching or cornering, following or chasing.
    ·Throwing objects or calling out to change behavior.
    ·Direct eye contact, even through a camera lens can be threatening to an animal.
    ·Circling or standing around an animal by yourself or in a group.
  3. Take Special Precautions for Children
    ·Children should never be encouraged to approach, pet or feed wildlife.
    ·Always keep children in immediate sight. They're often the same size as many animals' prey.
  4. Do Not Feed Wildlife
    ·Feeding attracts animals to roadside areas where they can be injured or killed.
    ·Feeding creates habituated animals - more likely to be a danger to people.
    ·Conflict often results in the death of the animal.
    ·Feeding leads to eating garbage.Animals eat wrappers, cans, and bottle caps, destroying their digestive systems.Eating human foods can cause, among other things, tooth decay, gum infections and ulcers in animals.