National Park Service officials euthanize elk after head-butting video goes viral

Footage “was a critical step in the decision-making” to euthanize the elk.

By Evan Bleier
Elk running wild and butting heads in Denver (File/UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey)
Elk running wild and butting heads in Denver (File/UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey) | License Photo

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Nov. 18 (UPI) -- After a YouTube video of an elk butting heads with an Asheville photographer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park went viral, the National Park Service euthanized the animal on Friday.

The viral video got about 1 million page views and received more than 1,000 comments.


According to park officials, the footage “was a critical step in the decision-making” to euthanize the elk. Although it “was the first incident that we know of that the elk engaged in physical contact” with a visitor, the animal had become too accustomed to receiving food from park visitors said spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

“This was not a one-time incident,” Soehn said. “(The video) was a trigger; the physical contact escalated our decision…We have reports of visitors who have been feeding them and the elk have been getting closer and closer. ... that one potato chip does make a big difference.”

Park officials attempted to relocate the animal, but he kept coming back to the same spot. “Unfortunately for that elk, he was just not responding to that aversion,” Soehn said.

The person who shot the video, Vince M. Camiolo, and the photographer, James York, both posted statements with the video after the news broke about the elk being put down. Here they are:


My [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.”

Statement from James [York]:

“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.”

[Asheville Citizen-Times]

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