ANTELOPE ISLAND — The phrase “you mess with the bull, you get the horns,” also apparently applies to bison.
A man learned that lesson the hard way on Antelope Island Saturday, and the encounter was caught on camera. Witnesses said it appeared the man provoked the beast, and it promptly rammed him into a fence.
“This person is very, very, very lucky that he wasn’t killed,” assistant park manager John Sullivan, said.
The man appeared uninjured immediately after the ordeal, and “other than being a little dusty, embarrassed and shell-shocked,” he was fine.
Witnesses told rangers the man rattled a fence separating him from the bison, appearing to try to get its attention as he was taking pictures.
“The [bison] had gone through the gate section that’s located real close to where he got hit and looked like he was going to run off the field,” Wayne Ebenroth of Boise, Idaho, said Wednesday. “He had to have done something to catch the [bison’s] attention because that’s when he turned around and decided to pay him a visit."
Ebenroth was there at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run to cheer on his wife and take pictures. That's when he noticed people in close proximity to the bison. He kept photographing the interaction and caught the moment the man was pinned against the fence.
“[The bison] just was not comfortable with how close he was hanging out with him,” Ebenroth said.
Sullivan said the man, who was not identified, was not cited because rangers said it would be “adding insult to injury.” The man told park rangers that he did not antagonize the animal, merely raised his arm to catch its attention.
“That’s 1,500 pounds of meat on the hoof,” said Antelope Island Buffalo Run organizer Jim Skaggs.
Skaggs said in the eight years he has run races on the island, he has never witnessed another negative encounter with the bison. Runners, he said, regularly cross paths or at least come into close proximity with the animals during the races, which can stretch up to 100 miles.
“Most of the time, the bison will just move and get out of the way,” he said.
Bison have been on Antelope Island since the 1880s, when ranchers brought them there. The land was eventually sold to the state, and officials try to maintain the island population at around 550.
The beasts are regularly mistaken in America for buffaloes, but scientists say there are a few physical differences and buffaloes are native to parts of Africa and Asia.
Sullivan said the fact the man was too close to the bison may have minimized the number of warning signs given by the animal.
“They’ll huff, they’ll lower their heads, they’ll paw at the dirt,” Sullivan said. “Their tails usually go rigid and come up. Any one of those things is an indication that you’re either too close or they’re getting aggravated.”
Rangers said they staying at least 35 to 40 yards away. Much closer, Sullivan said, and people can’t outrun the bison.
“I think there’s a misconception of what they really are,” he said.
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