Bison Gorings Blamed on Smartphones

Smart phones could be to blame for a spike in tourists being tossed and gored by bison in a national park, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report concludes.

Smart phones could be to blame for a spike in tourists being tossed and gored by bison in a national park, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report concludes.

There are about 4,900 bison in Yellowstone National Park, the largest US bison population on public land.

Keeping them away from human visitors--or more accurately vice versa--is an increasing problem.

Though in 1985 Yellowstone launched a major and successful visitor safety campaign to alert pedestrians to the dangers of getting too close to the animals, it seems to have stopped working.

In just three months in 2015, bison injured five people—up from fewer than one a year from 2010 to 2014.

The park still prominently posts warnings and enforces regulations that prohibit visitors from “willfully approaching, remaining, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 75 feet of the bison."

But not everyone is paying attention.

What changed? The CDC blames phone photos.

“The popularity of smart phone photography with its limited zoom capacity and social media sharing of selfies might explain why visitors disregard park regulations,” Cara Cherry, DVM, of the CDC and colleagues write in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review.

Three persons were injured while taking photographs within three to six feet of the bison. Two of the injured were apparently taking a selfie; they had their backs to the bison.

Getting too close to the animals was less of a problem “when traditional camera technology was used,” Cherry said.

The injuries did not result in deaths, but were serious.

“Two persons were gored, and three were tossed into the air,” Cherry wrote, “Four persons required hospitalization, three of whom were transported by helicopter ambulance.“

If the spate of injuries is not related to cellphones, someone ought to figure out what else might be going on, the team concluded.

“Injury prevention campaigns that identify and target the underlying motivations of visitors to not comply with viewing distances might prevent future injuries,” the researchers noted.

Photos by Gale Scott