Douglas McPherson wrote this post in response to the putting down of an elk last week, due to an encounter with a photographer. Although the elk did not harm the photographer, it was deemed a danger to humans, and following policy, was euthanized by the Park Service. We found this post informative, and after obtaining permission from Doug McPherson, we are reposting it here, along with a selection of Doug’s photos.
This photograph was taken September 09, 2013 in Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Please feel free to share this post and spread this word
This elk is dead. A beautiful wild animal with the potential to grow into a magnificent adult bull elk. This elk was euthanized by park service personnel following the release of a video showing the elk approach and repeatedly head butt a photographer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The photographer was sitting on the ground and remained motionless. The video exploded onto the internet, local news and the national news, it was even shown on Good Morning America. Although it appears the elk is simply “playing” with the man, it could have seriously harmed or even killed him.
All wildlife are unpredictable and all male members of the deer family go through an annual “rut” during which time they can become aggressive and their behavior is very unpredictable. There are not fences separating people from the wildlife in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or most other national parks – our parks are not zoos. The animals are wild and living in their natural environments and WE are the visitors. There are ethics for wildlife photographers. There are rules and laws concerning approaching wildlife and those same rules and laws also include what to do when wildlife approaches you.
Park Rangers and volunteers do an incredible job in our most visited national park but they cannot be everywhere. It is my opinion, that some common sense in this instance would have resulted in this elk being alive today and this story never having been told.
THIS ISSUE, however, needs to be addressed. Perhaps now, with the death of this elk and the attention this incident has received some good can come from it. This could easily have been avoided. Respect the wildlife. Keep your distance. Do not feed or approach them. If they approach you, move away, wave your arms, yell, whistle, honk your horn…do anything but please do something! If an animal approaches you and shows no sign of fear, that should be a “Red Flag” that something is wrong and you should do everything you can to keep it from getting closer. Wildlife that no longer fears humans is no longer wild! Restoring that fear should be left to park rangers and wildlife that does approach you or acts aggressively towards you should be reported immediately. Hopefully, incidents like this one won’t happen again. Hopefully, there will not be a future incident with a much more tragic ending.