Cow elk are extremely protective of their young, as one unfortunate woman discovered while visiting Yellowstone National Park earlier this year. A video currently circulating on social media shows the woman approaching a cow, phone in hand, to take some close-up photos.
The National Park Service advises always staying at least 25 yards (23 meters) from elk, and the visitor soon discovers why as the animal charges and knocks her to the ground. Luckily she seems to be unharmed, and is able to walk away, lesson learned.
The video (which you can watch below) was shared on infamous Instagram account TouronsOfNationalParks, which calls out bad behavior at sites of natural beauty around the world. Other bewildering incidents have included people holding a singalong on the rim of the Grand Canyon, poking moose, and chasing bears.
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Cow elk usually prefer to avoid close encounters with people, but can be aggressive during the spring, when this video was probably shot. Cows often leave their calves hidden from predators in scrub or long grass while they forage, which can lead to people accidentally stumbling across them, and the protective mother is rarely far away.
Approaching or distracting wild animals is against park rules, and people have received band and fines for getting too close. If you're not sure how much space to give creatures like elk and bison, close one eye, hold out one arm, and give the animal an appreciative 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, which is designed specifically to help you stay safe in the fall, when males are competing for the right to mate, but also includes helpful guidance for all times of year.
"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."
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 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), usually wearing at least two sports watches.