The Yellowstone Bison Incident

The Outbound Collective invited me to write a response to the Yellowstone bison incident that occurred last month. I've extracted it below from their website. Learn more about The Outbound Collective here.

A Response To The Yellowstone Bison Incident From An Actual Wildlife Biologist

I’ve been following the social media frenzy surrounding a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park. As a wildlife biologist, learning about the unfortunate event in which a man picked up a bison calf and placed it into his car elicited an array of responses, from anger to exasperation to defense, and, when combined, merits a much-needed discussion concerning perceptions of wildlife management. As a society, we need to do better regarding why we think it’s okay to interfere with wildlife. As a biologist, I can tell you why it’s not.

Based on press releases, we know that the tourist in question encountered a newborn bison in the park, physically put it in his vehicle, and transported it to a park ranger facility because he thought it was cold (for more details, see here). The man was cited for disturbing wildlife. However, after a two-day attempt by park rangers to reunite the calf with its herd, park officials made the difficult decision to euthanize the animal. These events paint a sad but all too common picture in which humans tampering with wildlife results in detrimental, and often fatal, outcomes for the animal.

The United States is home to 59 protected areas known as national parks, one of which is the iconic Yellowstone National Park. For these places, the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior, is charged with managing publicly owned natural resources (which include wildlife). The great gift of the national park system, and for any wild place in general, is that the wellbeing of wildlife and wild places depends on visitors exercising good judgement. When put plainly, this means following the rules.

While many of us recognize the good intentions of the tourist, he did not follow Yellowstone’s rules regarding safely viewing wildlife. The signage is everywhere, and the words are clear: do not approach wildlife. As a compassionate human being, I admire his concern for animal welfare, but this does not justify a blatant disregard for park rules. From a human safety standpoint, this was astronomically stupid, as bisonare extremely aggressive when protecting their young. From a wildlife standpoint, this caused the unnecessary death of a wild animal.

But, why exactly are people angry?

This depends on who you ask. All I had to do was hop on Twitter to see the public outrage against the tourist, the park rangers, and even the mother bison. People are upset that someone ignored park rules and potentially caused a bison to abandon her calf. People are upset with the mother bison for rejecting her baby. People are also extremely angry that park officials euthanized the animal instead of sending it to a sanctuary. While I, too, am exasperated that negative human-wildlife interactions are increasing, many of these responses very clearly illustrate a gross misunderstanding of wildlife behavior, ecology, and management.

Foremost, it should be pointed out that the bison calf may have already been abandoned by its mother prior to being picked up by the tourist. Allegedly, the animal was unattended by an adult. In nature, parents do sometimes abandon their young - sometimes unprovoked - even in national parks. When it does happen, as wildlife biologists and managers we aim to not interfere with natural processes. Yes, nature can be cruel, but unknown animals die without our knowing it all the time. This is part of the circle of life - when something dies, other things get to live as a result. However, human interference with wildlife can cause mothers to reject their offspring, and with (valiant) ranger efforts to reintroduce the calf to the herd failing, park officials thought it kinder to euthanize the animal than to watch it starve or get hit by a vehicle. To answer the question of why the calf wasn’t sent to a sanctuary: because the space and finances do not exist. The approved quarantine facility needed to ensure that the calf didn’t transmit diseases like brucellosis to captive bison herds was/is not in place, and there are laws regulating the transport of wild animals into private ownership. These alternatives were not possible, which means that the abandoned calf would have been left to starve or become prey. While these are natural events, the human involvement and therefore cause was not, and the animal was euthanized. There is no doubt that this decision weighed heavy on park officials. I am sad that they had to make this decision, but I support the park.

Wildlife biologists are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this, and many other human-wildlife interaction issues. This situation demonstrates why we should always leave wildlife alone. I spend a lot of time as a biologist talking about how wildlife don’t actually need our help. They don’t need to be saved from nature, and even when they do, it’s not our job to save them. That may seem counterintuitive, harsh even, but wildlife conservation is about populations, not individuals. Yellowstone National Park is not a zoo, or a sanctuary, or a wildlife rehabilitation center. The goal of wildlife managers is to maintain ecological processes, and this does not include pulling wildlife out of populations and throwing them into captivity for the sake of keeping them alive. However, this doesn’t mean that wildlife managers are callous about wildlife - just the opposite. I am a wildlife biologist because I am in awe of, in love with, and constantly seek to conserve wildlife and wild places. Natural ecosystems are complex machines where birth and death play key roles in the perseverance of that community, and no amount of emotion or opinion can override these facts. When we assume that experts are wrong simply because we disagree with their actions or their advice, we make it more difficult to accomplish common goals. Our current social environment dictates that experts are not allowed to disagree with emotions. In the case of the bison calf, and many human-wildlife issues, do-gooders are at odds with wildlife experts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the tourist had good intentions, as it was misguided, against park rules, and resulted in the death of the animal.

By thinking that we are allowed to interfere with wildlife if our intentions are good, or that it’s okay to break the rules in certain circumstances, we hurt wildlife. As a wildlife biologist, I spend very little time interacting with animals, and that is because human-wildlife interactions are never good for the animal. For these situations, it is always best to trust the experts. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be involved with YOUR wildlife. In the United States, wildlife are publicly owned, and you should enjoy them and develop opinions and affinities and appreciations. However, it is important to recognize that there are those who have dedicated their lives, educations, and careers to learning how to properly manage our resources, and that good intentions do not equate with expertise. Just like going to the doctor for a medical diagnosis, leaving wildlife to wildlife experts is the best way to ensure that you as well as the animals we love are safe.

Because our community is full of wonderful people willing to respect wildlife and safety regulations (unlike these guys), I thank you for being part of our team effort to conserve our wild places - conservation is truly a grassroots effort, and your support is paramount. It’s easy to be an animal hero and wildlife advocate without “helping” wildlife - if you see an animal you think is hurt, abandoned, or sick, please don’t take matters into your own hands. Depending on where you are, calling a park ranger or local biologist is the best way to ensure that wildlife do not meet an unnecessary end. Hopefully this bison calf’s death can generate a paradigm shift in how we want to influence wildlife - when this happens, the death will no longer be in vain.

WHOA Magazine

I recently did an interview with Hatie Parmeter, the founder of WHOA Magazine, a women's outdoor magazine that features stories on women who like to be outside. We spent a lot of time talking about the importance of getting young people interested in and involved with nature and the outdoors. We also talked about my job as a wildlife biologist, and I was able to share some fun experiences I've had over the years. I am so excited to share this interview with you, as WHOA Mag really captured my enthusiasm for the outdoors and why I am proud to be a biologist. I am also SUPER PUMPED to announce that I'll be representing this magazine as an ambassador! What does this mean? It means that WHOA Mag (which stands for Women of Heart and Outdoor Adventure) will be sponsoring my adventures in the wild and providing a great network of support in satisfying my outdoor curiosities. Take a moment to check out WHOA Mag and the interview here: 

In The Field With Wildlife Biologist Imogene Davis



Interview with Woman Scientist

I am so humbled and excited to share the lovely interview I had with Allison Lee of Woman Scientist. Woman Scientist is a fantastic platform that shares stories and interviews of women who have diverse interests and hobbies  in the science world. I am especially honored to spend time with this great community, as the purpose of Woman Scientist is to inspire, empower, advise and encourage women to pursue their careers in science. 

Be sure to sign up for the Woman Scientist newsletter so you can learn more about awesome women in science!

Click the link below:

Meet Wildlife Biologist Imogene Davis



I got a job... and need to update

Well hello hello! It has been embarrassingly long since I last wrote on this blog. I've broken my seven-year stretch! This blog started in 2009 as a way to document a wildlife internship and quickly evolved into a storytelling platform for all wildlife-related positions I've held. I slowed down a bit during graduate school, but now that I'm done with my master's degree I've run out of excuses! I'm at the end of my lunch break so will have to leave you with a link, but I did in fact get a job and I do in fact love it! Until I can write a chapters-long update, here ya go:

Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Hanging out with a marbled salamander 

Coolest Emails

A few months back I received an email from someone who had stumbled upon this blog and wanted to know my thoughts on one of the past job positions that I wrote about. I was pleased to see that my documentation of wildlife research was being put to good use and being seen by fellow wildlife professionals.

This morning I received an email from another individual regarding a recent job offer in wildlife research. This person wanted to let me know how informative and interesting the content on this page is and that it helped him during the interview. This person is now bound for an awesome adventure in wildlife research, wahoo!

My posting has declined over the course of graduate school (12 hour lab days just aren't as exciting to write about, unfortunately. Thankfully it's meaningful research), but I'm elated that so many people have encountered this site and found it useful. So, if you are a wildlife professional, pay it forward and make sure the world knows what you're up to! Even if you fall out of a tree, write about it. People like to know these things. You never know when someone will find your musings helpful!

A lovely coachwhip (Masticofis flagellum) I caught down in central Texas last week. Isn't he gorgeous? More pics soon from my trip down to Independence Creek Preserve.