Cow elk violently rejects Yellowstone tourist's 'mating dance'

Cow elk at Yellowstone National Park
(Image credit: Getty)

A visitor to Yellowstone National Park got on the wrong side of a cow elk recently, after seemingly attempting to woo her with an attempted mating dance. Rather than watching her from a safe distance, the boy approached her hanging his arms to the ground while his parents recorded the incident.

The elk looked up, showing that he was too close for comfort, and when this failed she grunted and charged to frighten him away, to his parents' alarm.

The video, which you can watch below, was shared on Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone (opens in new tab), which serves to highlight examples of bad behavior at US National Parks. These often involve wildlife, and past highlights have included visitors attempting to pet bison and taunting elk, with predictable results.

Elk are usually docile and prefer to avoid encounters with humans, but like all wild animals they can be unpredictable and aggressive if they feel threatened. Had the boy approached a female with her calves in spring, the results could have been very different, as mothers are fiercely protective.

Yellowstone is home to between 10,000 and 20,000 elk, making them the most numerous mammals in the park. This particular encounter was recorded at Mammoth Hot Springs (opens in new tab), where the animals come during their mating season (known as the rut).

The National Park Service (opens in new tab) (NPS) advises visitors to stay at least 25 yards (23 meters) from elk at all times, and never deliberately approach or disturb the animals. If you're not certain how far this is, close one eye, hold out one arm, and give the elk a thumbs up. If you can completely hide it behind your thumb, you're fine. If not, it's time to back up.

To enjoy watching the animals, the NPS advises viewing them from afar with a spotting scope, telephoto lens, or binoculars. For more advice, see our guide how to enjoy elk rutting season safely.

"If approached by an elk, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves creating space for the animal to pass," advises the NPS. "If elk are near the roadways, remain in or next to your vehicle at a safe distance from the animal."

English doesn't seem to be this family's first language, but translated visitor guides (opens in new tab) are available in Japanese, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and German so international visitors can enjoy Yellowstone safely.

Cat Ellis

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).