Seeing bison can be a highlight of visiting a National or State Park, but tourists don't always give the animals the space and respect they deserve. Despite their shaggy coats and typically docile nature, bison are huge, powerful animals that can move extremely fast. In fact, they are responsible for more injuries than any other animal at Yellowstone National Park, including bears and snakes.
The National Park Service warns visitors to always stay at least 25 yards (23 meters) away from bison and elk, and even further away from bears and wolves. To check whether you're at a safe distance, hold your arm out in front of you and give the bison a thumbs up. Close one eye, and see whether you can completely obscure the bison from view using your thumb. If not, you need to back up.
The videos below highlight five occasions when people got far too close to these beautiful animals for their own safety (thankfully none of which resulted in an injury).
1. Photographer charged in South Dakota
A man taking photos of bison at Custer State Park was given a warning charge when he came within a few feet of the animals trying to get a closeup – but still came back for more. The National Park Service advises visitors who want to capture memories of wildlife to use a long lens and tripod instead of invading animals' space.
The video below was published online just days after a woman was gored by a bison at a Texas park. Rebecca Clark was hiking solo when she decided to squeeze past a small group of the animals rather than take a detour. One charged at her, seriously injuring her back, but she decided to share a video of the incident as a warning to others.
2. Yellowstone visitors take bison selfies
A group of at least five men stopped to take selfies with a group of bison at Yellowstone National Park earlier this month, and posted a video of the incident online. Luckily the bison chose to ignore them on this occasion, but they could have easily been seriously injured.
Males (known as bulls) can weigh up to 2,000lb, and females (cows) can weigh as much as 1,000lb. They can move at speeds up to 30mph and are surprisingly agile for their size, so it's wise to give them plenty of space.
3. Motorcyclist rides too close during the rut
Exploring Yellowstone by motorcycle can be a thrilling experience, but riders have to be particularly careful around the park's wildlife without the protection of a car. One motorcyclist had a narrow escape in September when they rode too close to an irritable male bison during the animals' mating season (known as the rut).
At this time of year, bison become particularly territorial and aggressive, as males compete for the attention of females.
The rider was wearing a helmet-mounted camera, and the resulting video (which you can watch below) shows a bison lunge forward, nearly sending the bike off balance.
4. Tourist tries to pet and ride bison
The most shocking example in this list sees a man approaching a large male bison resting at Yellowstone National Park, and asking whether he can pet or ride the animal. He comes within a few feet, one arm outstretched to stroke the bison's hide, while recording the incident with his phone.
Understandably the bison doesn't appreciate this intrusion and stands, scaring the tourist back. The animal shows great restraint, but the man sulks and accuses it of being "not very friendly".
Earlier this year the National Park Service published a poster urging people not to "pet the fluffy cows", and it's shocking to see that some people actually attempt it,
5. Yellowstone visitor risks being trampled
A man visiting Yellowstone earlier this month decided to get a unique perspective on the park's wildlife by lying in the middle of the road to record bison as it grazed on the verge.
The video below was shot by a shocked videographer who couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. The man appears to be trying to get his feet into frame with the animal, presumably to show how unfazed he is.
Outrunning a bison isn't a good strategy, and this man wouldn't have even been able to get to his feet in time if this one had decided to charge.
For advice on how to enjoy watching these beautiful animals safely, see our guide how to avoid being gored by a bison.
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).