Saturday, November 23, 2013

Elk That Butted Heads With Photographer Euthanized By Park Services

There's not much a photographer won't do to get that special, hopefully spectacular, photo. That often means getting up at early hours, staying up all night, trekking through fields and in some cases getting up close and personal with wild animals.  I love taking photos of animals, but I'm perfectly happy when they're on the other side of some kind of fence. That doesn't always happen, however. In the wild, you have no control over what wild animal might approach you. That's what happened to photographer James York when he was up one early morning taking photos in the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina.  Cataloochee Valley is famous for its elk. Photographer Vince M. Camiolo also happened to be there when a young elk apparently walked up behind York and started investigating York's equipment.  It seemed the bull was initially in search of food, but the encounter turned physically aggressive, and Camiolo wound up videotaping most of it.

Camiolo asked York why he allowed the abuse, and his answer:

"My first thoughts were "wow, he's getting pretty damn close here." But I've been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down. I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring. I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him. I was concerned at first, but when he started rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That's when I wagged my finger at him to cut that shit out. I was relieved to see the Ranger coming.

So I guess at some point if the Ranger hadn't of pulled up, I would have had to disengage the best I could. I've joked with my friends that at least he took me for a buck and not a cow!"
Some of you may have seen snippets of the video, since it went viral, but as a result the National Park Service felt the elk's aggression warranted euthanizing the animal. Apparently this was not the first aggressive encounter with humans. Both photographers were heartbroken, but the problem lies with people who feed the wild animals which makes them fearless in seeking food from other humans.

Camiolo posted a statement (along with York's) regarding the elk's demise.

Camiolo's  statement:

I am deeply saddened by the fate of the elk. It has certainly pulled a black cloud over this whirlwind "viral video" experience.

I spoke to the reporter who broke the story and she assured me the decision was based on a pattern of aggressive behavior that began prior to the incident documented in this video. The behavior was the result of visitors feeding the elk and conditioning them to seek food from humans. This video only serves as an example of the elk's dangerous behavior, not an impetus to it.

Again, it brings me great sadness to learn of this beautiful animal's demise and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding it.

I'm looking into a destination for proceeds from this video to help the NPS educate visitors on the dangers and consequences of feeding wildlife.

I also want to be clear that James, the photographer, was not complicit in a behavior that led to the elk's demise, but rather was made an example of the result of such behaviors. The elk approached him from behind, likely looking for food as he was conditioned to do.

York's statement:

I love and respect animals and that's why I photograph them and don't hunt them. I am deeply hurt by the loss of such a beautiful creature that in its own way bonded with me. I looked forward to watching him grow to a mature bull as the years passed.

I'm truly heartbroken to know he is gone.
I think I'll stick to the other side of the fence or sitting in my car snapping shots. I'm not that bold or courageous.  It's a pretty amazing video though.

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