This article originally appeared on Backpacker
Yellowstone has a simple message for visitors this summer: Do not go near the elk.
In news release on May 19 titled "DANGER: Elk calving season has begun in Yellowstone National Park," officials warned tourists visiting the popular park to steer clear of mother and baby elk. "Cow elk are much more aggressive towards people during the calving season and may run toward you or kick," the park noted in the bullet-pointed release. "Always keep at least 25 yards from elk."
May through the end of June, is elk calving season in the park, and also one of the most popular times for tourists to visit. Unfortunately, not all of those tourists heed the park's numerous posted safety warnings, with many breaking the rules in search of a photo. The mammals are generally docile, and disinterested in humans, especially compared to big predators like grizzlies. But getting too close can agitate the elk, putting both humans and the animals at risk.
To avoid this possibility, park officials are encouraging visitors to be elk aware: "Stay alert. Look around corners before exiting buildings or walking around blind spots: cow elk may bed their calves near buildings and under cars."
This warning comes just weeks after a bull elk charged a group of tourists in Yellowstone, knocking one tourist down. The incident took place after two bull elk prepared to spar, but they were distracted by an approaching crowd, which caused one elk to bugle before charging the tourists.
In January of this year, an elk punctured the tire on a tourist's car after the tourist taunted the elk from inside the vehicle.
Yellowstone National Park is a safe haven for elk. Estimates suggest that the park's grasslands provide a habitat for somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 elk every year. These animals are a vital part of the local habitat since they account for about 85% of wolf's winter kills as well as many scavenger's meals. They also contribute to nitrogen deposits and soil fertility. But human interference can disrupt these natural processes.
A fully grown cow can weigh 600 pounds, while a bull elk can weigh up to 1100 pounds, and their behavior can be unpredictable. Giving elk space, treating them respectfully, and minimizing disturbances to the animals are strategies that can help reduce the likelihood of a dangerous encounter.
“You are responsible for your own safety,” park officials say.
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.