YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — Last month, rangers in Yellowstone National Park killed a coyote that was stealing food from park visitors and employees.
But according to experts, animal problems in the park are more often people problems.
Here’s the scenario. You’re walking along a path here in Mammoth, in Yellowstone, and a wild animal comes running up. It’s a coyote, about the size of a medium-sized dog, and it begins to badger you. So you do what most people do - you drop the chips and get out of there.
“It actually grabbed a bag of food out of a visitor's hand,” Townsend said.
“We tried to do some aversive conditioning,” said Yellowstone National Park Ranger Tim Townsend. That means scare it away. Rangers used something similar to a paintball gun to frighten the animal, but: “It did not work out well,” said Townsend.
The coyote went right back to its old tricks, so rangers made the decision to kill it. The animal was getting aggressive and could have easily attacked and hurt someone. But you can’t blame the animal.
“Coyotes are incredibly smart animals,” said Townsend. “It doesn’t take very many times for an animal to get fed before it’s probably its death sentence.”
This has been a problem in Yellowstone for more than 100 years and when an animal gets fed, they learn quickly to relish those opportunities. “They don’t unlearn that behavior,” said Townsend.
And just moving the animal doesn’t help. “If you were able to relocate them, they’re going to have that behavior wherever they go,” Townsend pointed out.
Rangers say the only way to put a stop to things like this is to stop people from teaching coyotes they can get food from humans.
Townsend says when people see animals in developed parts of the park they need to let rangers know right away so the animals can be chased away, for their own safety.