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VIDEO: Hey, tourists, don't touch the bison

MEDORA -- Tourists flock to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora every summer to experience what it was like to be a cowboy in the wild west. And for some visitors, that means an up close look at the animals that roam the Badlands. Signs th...

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MEDORA -- Tourists flock to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora every summer to experience what it was like to be a cowboy in the wild west.

And for some visitors, that means an up close look at the animals that roam the Badlands.Signs throughout the park remind visitors to not touch or feed the animals. “A good rule of thumb, when watching animals is, if the animal is reacting to you, you are too close,” said Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public information officer for TRNP.

But for some, the enticement of these wild animals puts them in a dangerous situation when wonder overcomes caution and they put themselves too close to wild animals.

On May 9, the bison became the first national mammal. But just because the animal is now symbolic to the nation does not take away the fact that they are known as one of the most ferocious animals in North America.

Last week, a 50-year-old woman was gored by a bison in Custer National Park in South Dakota, sometimes mistakenly referred to as buffalo.

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A park statement said the visitor was injured when she “approached the buffalo at a very unsafe distance.”

There are an estimated 1,300 bison in Custer National Park.

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, which has between 2,300 and 5,000 bison, recommends the safest distance in observing large animals like bison, elk, bighorn sheep and deer, is at least 25 yards away.

Bison can reach upwards of 2,000 pounds and can run three times faster than a human at 35 mph, and can be a dangerous animal to come into contact with while on foot.

That’s why park officials at Yellowstone encourage visitors to watch large animals, especially bison, from the inside of a hard-sided vehicle.

In early May, a bison calf was placed in the back of a vehicle at Yellowstone, which led to the animal being euthanized after it was not accepted back into the herd.

The foreign tourists thought the calf was “cold.”

Andes said people need to know that park officials are not there to take care of the wildlife.

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“Here in the park, if an animal has a natural injury and that happens we will let nature take it’s course,” Andes said. “There are diseases. There are parasites out there. There are predators. Predators have to eat too. So we let nature take it’s course.”

Andes said through the social media coverage of the recent Yellowstone bison calf being rejected by its herd and having to be put down, that this will show visitors what not to do when visiting a national park.

TRNP has between 200 and 400 bison in the South Unit and 100 to 300 in the North Unit.

“This is the animal's home and we are the visitors, so they try to get too close for a photograph or to pet them or to do something else,” Andes warns. “Regardless of the species, wild animals can be very dangerous.”

TRNP also homes one venomous reptile -- the prairie rattlesnake.

Andes said that people should still approach caution if you come into contact with the venomous snake, but that rattlesnakes are not typically an aggressive breed and are usually more afraid of people than people are of them.

It is illegal to attempt to capture or kill snakes in the park.

TRNP to press charges for collecting antlers

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Endangering wildlife, is illegal, but so is tampering with or hindering the natural ecosystem in national parks.

The TRNP Visitor Guide states that “All natural features of the park are protected. This includes, but is not limited to, wildlife, cultural artifacts, rocks, soil, plants, shed antlers, and animal bones. Collecting and/or possessing these items is illegal.”

On April 24, an ATV accident occurred in the park located in the wilderness area -- which is illegal -- and there were antlers found on or near the vehicle. The operator of the ATV had significant injuries.

The National Park Service, the Billings County Sheriff, the Billings County Ambulance Service, the Dickinson Rural Fire Department Dive Team, the North Dakota Game & Fish Department, the Billings County Fire, all responded to the call.

The investigation is ongoing and the names of the individuals have not been released.

“We have not filed any formal charges, yet,” said Dean Wycoff, chief ranger for TRNP.

Andes said this is a common problem.

“Wherever there are animals that shed antlers in a national park, there are some people who will try to collect them,” she said. “Which is not legal because everything in a national park is here to stay.”

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