Elk from viral video euthanized

Nov. 18, 2013 @ 12:53 AM

 After a video of a photographer who was approached and headbutted by an elk at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park went viral recently, reports indicate that the elk in the video was euthanized Friday.

James York, the photographer in the video, said that he was “truly saddened” over the turn of events.

“Sadly, yes, the (National Park Service) put the elk in the video down Friday afternoon. I am heartbroken that this had to happen,” York said via email on Saturday. “The NPS claims that this particular elk had a history of being fed by people and became increasingly more aggressive long before my encounter.”

York also said that he did nothing wrong to provoke the elk.

“As the video and my still shot clearly show, I was on the road and not out trying to ‘get closer,’” York said. “Other photographers were also on that road merely 50 or so yards away. We all were focused with telephoto lenses on the bull elk and his harem of cow in the field.”

In the video, York can be seen lowering his head when the elk gets closer, which he said was a safety precaution. “I put my head down, not to play headbutt with him, but rather to protect my eyes as he leveled his antlers. I thought he would lose interest and be on his way.”

While park officials could not be reached Saturday to confirm that the elk was euthanized, The Asheville Citizen-Times published a report on Friday with a park official confirming that the animal was put down.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park issued a statement containing information on how park visitors can safely view wildlife on Friday.

“Park Rangers encourage visitors to use binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras with telephoto lenses to best enjoy wildlife. Feeding, touching, disturbing and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, are illegal in the park.

If approached by wildlife, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass. Often animals simply need adequate space to cross a trail, road, or public area as they travel through the park in search of forage and cover.”

In the statement, Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver said that wild animals will typically avoid intereacting with visitors unless they become food conditioned.

“If an animal starts approaching and threatening human safety, we have several proactive steps we take to effectively manage the situation that best protects the animal and the public,” Stiver said.

“However, if the negative behaviour escalates, our options in dealing with the animal quickly become limited.”

The statement from the park also contains information on how the park has taken measures to increase visitor safety.

“Park officials have taken numerous steps over the past several years to prevent nuisance wildlife behavior by improving the design of bear-proof garbage cans and sanitation schedules, and promoting public awareness in our visitor centers and through our website and social media. The Park also created several volunteer programs including the Elk Bugle Corp and Oconaluftee Field Rovers, who provide on-site, timely information to park visitors so they may safely view wildlife. As a result of these efforts, wildlife biologists have relocated far fewer bears than in the 1980s and managed fewer nuisance animals.”

For more information on how to safely view wildlife, visit the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/wildlifeviewing.htm.