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Wildlife 'tourons' put themselves and animals in danger

Accounts have popped up on social media documenting the phenomenon of people getting too close to wild animals.
A black bear sitting on a hammock in a back yard
Posted at 7:54 PM, Jun 25, 2024

They pop up in social media feeds all the time — examples of people getting too close to wild animals in places like national parks, sometimes leading to serious injury or worse.

There's the two men who sauntered up to a pair of wild bison for a photo at Yellowstone National Park — or the woman who was charged by a bull on a beach in Mexico.

Or the elk in Estes Park Colorado who wasn't wild about a man getting too close to take a photo.

They are sometimes called "tourons," a mashup of tourist and moron: people risking their safety for a selfie. Accounts have popped up on social media documenting the phenomenon.

On Instagram, the National Park Service even poked fun at what they say is a serious problem, writing: "Believe in yourself like visitors who believe they can pet a bison."

"A lot of people really appreciate and love wildlife. They just don't know how to interact appropriately," says Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Officer Dawson Swanson.

On his beat in Colorado's wilderness areas, Swanson has seen it all when it comes to potentially dangerous human-wildlife interactions.

"There's a lot of folks who feel like the rules just don't apply to them, you know? And so then they'll kind of push the envelope, get closer," Swanson told Scripps News.

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Like the people who pulled two bear cubs from a tree in Asheville, North Carolina. Messing with baby animals, Swanson says, can be especially dangerous.

"Wildlife doesn't abandon their young." Swanson says. "And if you do try to interact and pick them up or whatever, they can act very aggressively to defend them."

If a human is attacked, injured or killed, Swanson says it can also be deadly for the animal. In the interest of public safety, Swanson says the animal will most likely be killed.

"The animal is doing what they're naturally supposed to be doing, and that is protecting the young. And so we've put them in a tough situation. And the unfortunate outcome might be it might cost them their lives for doing what is natural to them," he says.

Swanson says "tourons" sometimes learn the lesson too late.

"They're still a wild animal, even if they look docile," Swanson says. "The best option is just to give them their space back off, and view them from a distance."