A visitor to Yellowstone National Park pleaded guilty to a federal charge and was fined after he helped a bison calf, which was later euthanized after its herd rejected it, officials said.
Clifford Walters, of Hawaii, pleaded guilty to one count of feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said.
He was order to pay a total of around $1,000 in a fine and payment to the park’s wildlife fund, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming said in a statement.
On May 20, Walters helped a newborn bison calf out of the Lamar River, after the animal became separated from its herd, the National Park Service said.
But the calf was then rejected by the herd, which can happen when humans interfere with wildfire, according to the park.
Staff later killed the calf because it was abandoned, and because it was “causing a hazardous situation by approaching cars and people along the roadway,” the park said in a statement.
There was nothing to indicate Walters acted maliciously, federal prosecutors said.
Walters represented himself in the case, court records show. He declined to comment Wednesday.
Yellowstone has explained its decision to euthanize the calf instead of sending it to a sanctuary or caring for it by saying that state and federal regulations prohibit the transfer of bison out of Yellowstone except for scientific research or meat processing.
The park also said that it is there to preserve natural processes, and that it is not a zoo. It said as many of 25% of bison calfs born this spring will die, but will benefit other animals by feeding them.
“Allowing this cycle of life to play out aligns most closely with the stewardship responsibility entrusted to us by the American people. Unfortunately, the calf’s behavior on roads and around people was hazardous, so rangers had to intervene: but the calf’s body was left on the landscape,” it said.
Park officials have stressed that visitors should give wildlife space, by staying at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other animals.
The sentence handed down for Walters included a $500 fine and a $500 payment to Yellowstone’s wildlife protection fund, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.