• Outdoors Outdoors

Video of tourist's attempt to feed elk at national park sparks backlash online: 'Back away'

"National parks are not, we repeat, not a big petting zoo."

"National parks are not, we repeat, not a big petting zoo."

Photo Credit: Instagram

We all hope to be treated with respect, and that's no different for wildlife. 

The United States National Park Service manages 429 individual parks, comprising over 85 million acres. This area spans all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. While national parks offer visitors the opportunity to witness animals in diverse habitats, it is best to keep a safe distance.

On Instagram, the outdoor and national parks content hub Tourons of National Parks (@touronsofnationalparks) posted a video of a visitor getting extremely close to try to feed the local elk. 

Two visitors appear in the video, with one walking up close to a group of grazing elk and extending their hand in hopes that the elk in front of them will take the food being offered. 

"Never feed wildlife or bait animals for closer observation or photography. Feeding park wildlife usually guarantees its demise," read the post's caption. The footage was originally captured by wildlife and conservation enthusiast Phoebe Carnes (@phoebeswildlife).

Oconaluftee Visitor Center, where the video took place, is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The area is home to 10,000 species of plants and animals and is the most visited national park in the United States. 

The elk found at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are known to be larger than black bears and can be dangerous if they feel threatened in their area or if they think their offspring are at risk. 

Respecting wildlife is essential in areas beyond the Great Smoky Mountain region. In Estes Park in Colorado, for example, visitors are asked to keep a distance from elk, stay on roadways and designated trails, and not feed them.

In a study shared by the Baker City Herald, it was found that rising temperatures affected the reproduction window for Rocky Mountain elk, which need vegetation to raise their calves. This was felt in other parts of the United States, highlighting the looming threat to elk populations. 

With an estimated population of 2 million, elk are important ecologically and provide an indicator of how well habitats are functioning. They have also supported local economies, as plenty of visitors travel to view them. Maintaining respect for elk habitats ensures a healthy population, so it's important to comply with national park regulations

"National parks are not, we repeat, not a big petting zoo. The animals are not domesticated," commented one Instagram user. 

"Back away," another user wrote.

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