Elk are the most abundant mammal in Yellowstone National Park. These creatures show the natural divinity and beauty that mother nature is capable of creating. With as abundant as these creatures are in Yellowstone National Park, many problems follow them.

Like every mammal, diseases pose a huge threat to Elk. One such disease that has been in Elk throughout Yellowstone National Park, is Brucellosis. Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that affects mainly cattle, but has been found in many other mammals, including elk, bison, and even humans. It can produce abortions, retained placentas, male reproductive tract lesions, arthritis, and bursitis.

Though brucellosis has been mostly eliminated in livestock in the United States, Elk and Bison herds in the Yellowstone area remain reservoirs for the disease. Not only can this directly affect the population of elk, but those who consume the infected animal, as the disease is highly contagious and can be transferred through unpasteurized milk, ingestion of the infected animal, or close contact with their secretions.

  • Though there are questions that are yet to be answered: How rampant is this disease in elk throughout the park?
  • How did this disease get to be?
  • What percentage of elk are affected by this?   

Elk are herbivores. Their diet in Yellowstone consists of grases, sedges, the bark of aspen tress, and aquatic plants. Being low on the food chain, they naturally have predators. Including animals such as the grey wolf, bears, mountain lions, and at least 12 different scavenger species. Elk comprise an estimated 90% of winter wolf kills.

In many national parks, including Yellowstone, pesticides are used. The potential risk of pesticide residue remaining on many different objects is very high. Objects with such residues pose a threat to staff, the public, and these animals.

  • What kind of pesticides are found in Yellowstone National Park?
  • How do these affect the elk who graze?
  • How would this later affect the animal that consumes the elk?

Misinformed humans can be extremely dangerous not only to the elk, but themselves as well. There have been multiple reports of elk attacking vehicles and people alike, but it was more of an intrusion of the elks’ space by the misinformed people. There have also been multiple times where the elk have been surrounded by humans who were trying to take a couple of pictures of the magnificent animal, but because they have adjusted to humans in general, no one had been hurt in those occasions. Gardiner, a town on the Northern border of YNP, is a prime example of elk and humans living cohesively with almost no problem at all.

Another reason that many people are putting themselves and the wildlife in danger, is because many people do not know or follow the park rules. It states in the YNP Handbook that you should stay at least 25 yards away from any animals. In most cases where elk do attack, it’s due to people being within the territory of the elk; and space is very important to elk. That’s one of the many rules that are broken in YNP.

  • How do we inform the misinformed humans?
  • Why do people come to YNP misinformed?

 

We as a group have searched some of the more well known sources on the internet, such as the Yellowstone National Park website, and National Geographic. After we got all the articles, we went through and annotated all of the articles to get the best information we could. We had to make sure all of our questions were answered so that our essay can have all the information in it.

We have used a variety of different sources directly referring to the elk in Yellowstone National Park. One of the main things we had to look up was the impact and interactions humans have with the elk in the park. We had looked for occasions in the news for an incident between humans and elk. This site just known as WyoFile. The site a dedicated to getting site visitors informed on Wyoming. The author of this article, Angus M. Thuermer, is a reporter that’s been in wyoming for over 35 years.

(http://www.wyofile.com/blog/yellowstone-elk-butts-woman/)

We had also found that vehicles impact elk. We wanted to see the statistics of vehicle vs. elk collisions in Yellowstone, and we had found what we were looking for. The article in this link was written by Brett French, a well known reporter of the Billings Gazette. He had written another article in relation to the Northern Yellowstone Herd stabilizing its elk population. This was from the Billings Gazette Newspaper from January 24, 2017. (http://ravallirepublic.com/news/state-and-regional/article_ca0e20d5-2236-52fb-a733-1cb64862ea34.html).

We had also looked for various statistics about the hunting of elk, and some of the biggest fires in Yellowstone. This resource was hosted by SERC (Science Education Resource Center) at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

(http://serc.carleton.edu/NZFires/megafires/Yellowstone.html).

We also needed to know many other facts for this essay such as the predators of elk and migratory seasons. National Geographic was sure to be in depth in their interactive presentation of elk migratory patterns.

(http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/05/yellowstone-national-parks-elk-migration-map/)

One of the more important topics is Brucellosis, a bacterial infection that originally spread through cattle, but have now spread through bison, elk, and even humans. Brucellosis affects the elk in the park, their food chain, and of course the elk that interact with humans. The link leads to CDC’s ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) official website.There was an effort to stop brucellosis through a vaccination program what was eventually cancelled due to multiple different reasons. This information was given to us by Park Ranger Jon Nicholson in the park. He said he had 9 years of experience as a Park Ranger.

(https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/12/13-0167_article)

Pesticides play an important role in parks all of the United States, including Yellowstone. So what we did, was we collected a list of all of the pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides being used by national parks today. This list also tells us the chemical composition of these solutions, the effect that this solution can have on animals, and how to prevent exposure. This article contains a list of all the pesticides used in all of the National Parks in the U.S. (https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/02-16.pdf)

We looked at lots of various reliable sources but the main site we used was the National Geographic site. On this site you can search what you need to know about the elk and then an article will show up on the National Geographic web page with the information you need. We found this website very helpful while doing our research.

 

After doing our research we were able to find out that visitors in the park have lots of problems with elk. It seems that many visitors underestimate the size and strength of elk. Nor, in many cases, do some visitors follow park rules. If agitated, threatened, or even if made uncomfortable, an elk has the potential to charge. The huge problem here is that too many tourists are uninformed how dangerous these animals can be. People can be severely injured if they provoke an elk. After all; these animals are still wild. If you approach an elk at the wrong time they can attack, just like they charge at cars. Montana is number two in the nation for auto vs deer, elk, or moose collisions. State Farm calculated the odds that 1 in 58 of Montana drivers will collide with one of the large mammals, based on insurance claims filed. Stepping away from vehicles, we have a video of a woman trying to get a picture of a cow elk. The woman was clearly too close, and the elk charged at her. The woman was headbutted by the elk, and luckily she only left with the wind knocked out of her. This is a prime example of people who could’ve gotten severely injured, but were very lucky in the incident.
While researching, we came across an article from Yellowstone National Park’s own handbook over the elk stating basic and in-depth information on elk such as diet and population fluctuations, Yellowstone National Park’s website article on the elk skimming over basic information over elk, a study from the University of Nebraska how the wolf population affects the elk population, a Wyoming Migration site that follows most migration of many animals that go through Wyoming, and a website given by our teacher, Mr. Olsen, over the multiple fires that happened in Yellowstone. We also have National Geographic to thank for their masterful work on an interactive presentation on elk migration through Yellowstone. This may be catastrophic because since the reintroduction of wolves into the park in 1995, the amount of willow trees has risen drastically.

We also looked up pictures of elk being a problem in areas around Yellowstone or even in Yellowstone National Park because they are so used to being around people. We watched a video of a bull elk in Yellowstone waiting in an area. Every time a car drove by, he would charge at it. This can damage the vehicles, the animal, or people. Other problems they have had is elk holding up traffic in the park because a small herd decided to cross. This just goes to show how comfortable with humans, these animals are getting. This poses a huge threat to wildlife, personal possessions, and people.

Through intense research, we have determined that Brucellosis is running rampant in herds of elk and bison. Brucellosis (a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Brucella) is spread between animals by birthing fluids and tissues. It can also be found in the blood, milk, semen of infected animals. In wildlife (cattle, elk, bison, etc.), brucellosis may cause abortions, retained placentas, male reproductive tract lesions, arthritis, and bursitis. It can also be transported to humans by ingesting unpasteurized dairy products, inhaling of the bacteria, or coming into contact with the animal’s secretions. In humans, brucellosis causes fever, chills, loss of appetite, sweats, weakness, fatigue, joint, muscle, and back pain, and headache. Symptoms may disappear for weeks even months at a time, and then later return. For some, brucellosis becomes chronic; persisting for years at a time. Long-term effects include: fatigue, recurrent fevers, arthritis, swelling of the heart, and spondylitis (an inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine and adjacent joints). Though the disease has been nearly eliminated from livestock in the US, there are still around 200 cases of humans contacting brucellosis in the United States every year. The disease can be treated in humans, by routinely taking antibiotics. However, in animals, the disease can not be cured. They did however take an effort at solving this problem. The National Park Service had the idea to start a mass vaccination program to vaccinate all the animal species that contract the disease. This program was eventually scrapped for a couple of reasons. The biggest issue was the fact that these elk were always moving, and scientists wouldn’t be able to vaccinate every elk or bison in the YNP area. There was also a funding issue, but the elk migratory patterns issue was the main shutdown of this program. The NPS is still taking strides to fix this issue, but there won’t be rapid change until we have a better plan of attack.

The predators of elk in the park are wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and bears. Bobcats, coyotes, and wolves all hunt in groups and when the elk are calving then the wolves, coyotes, and bobcat population goes up because there is more elk for them to prey on. One problem we have found is that elk carry brucellosis and when these animals eat an elk they then get the the brucellosis.

We have found that people may come to the park misinformed but they get the rule sheets and they don’t read the rules, or they read the rule sheet but they just don’t care because they see other visitors in the park getting too close to animals and not following the rules so they think it’s okay for them to regard the rules as well.  A solution that may work is making people watch a video before they enter the park so that the park workers know that they are aware of the rules instead of guessing that they’re just going to read the rules and they may not.

 

Tourism at Yellowstone is becoming increasingly popular. According to Erin FitzGerald, a reporter for theguardian.com, the extra tourism have caused an increasing number of accidents between humans, animals, and the park’s flora and fauna.

“Park rangers issued 52,000 resource violations last year. People broke thermal features, interacted with protected wildlife and relieved themselves in the park. DUI’s and domestic violence also increased in the park.”

The number of visitors to Yellowstone is all but shrinking. As the number of tourists to the park raises, serious concerns follow: potential damage to wildlife, personal belongings, the park’s natural attractions, and other people.

The number of people coming into the park is not slowing down. This means that this problem is only going to get worse. There are signs across the park in 10 different languages.

This causes problems that lead back to the fact that people are getting hurt from the park animals, along with causing property damage. Many people underestimate an elk’s size and strength and don’t realize how dangerous they can be. If people continue to regard the rules in the park then the numbers of people getting hurt in the park is not going to go down. If visitors do follow the rules then the chances of the numbers going down are quite a bit higher. Also if visitors are aware of what’s going on around them then they will know when it’s safe to get out of their vehicle or not and that can also limit the number of attacks in the park each year. The park could put caution signs in areas where there’s a lot of accidents or a certain animal is seen there often so people are aware.

The main problem, though, is that people aren’t informed. Maybe, some people feel like they know more than they do. That would also classify as being uninformed. When many visitors have gone up or irritated an animal the chances of them getting upset are higher, causing animals to attack. If we can just get people to follow the rules then the number of dangerous encounters with animals would decrease.

 

Visitors to the park need to be further educated about Yellowstone’s wildlife and the dangers that they pose, because they can cause damage to personal property and people. We felt as a group that this was the biggest issue that had a possible solution. Brucellosis was the biggest regarding just elk, but when in came to problem that concerned more than just elk, human interaction was the issue to fit that description. Some possible solutions solve this issue, is to have signs placed around the park saying something to the effect of “If Elk are present, please keep your distance from the animal”.

Sincerely

 

 

 

Brett Jacobs, Stone House, and Kayla Teeters

CC BY-SA 4.0 Elk in Yellowstone National Park by Stone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 Comment
  1. Lindsay 2 months ago

    Hi
    I read the above about elk attacks in Yellowstone and how people are issued a rules sheet, I arrived by bus and was never issued with or made aware of this document.
    People on our tour were told nothing more than donot get any closer than a bus length from any animal.
    When our bus parking spot was half that distance to a large group of elk next to the washrooms.
    It would have been nice to have a copy of the “rules” to have prepaired us for what was to happen. It was apparent that the staff at the entrance gate were not willing to provide everyone on the bus a copy of the rules that you imply people don’t read. Due to costs (I am sure our tour costs would have included park entrance fees)no one was given this information.
    You also make mention of warning signs of which I had seen none and God help any non English speaking visitors if there was.
    The park is amazing and the scenery spectacular but if elk and people are going to be allowed in such close contact with each other then there is a lot more park management need to do then dismiss attacks as “stupid people getting to close”

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