SALT LAKE CITY — At this point in the year, most Utahns are counting down to warmer weather. And with the warmer weather comes a host of outdoor recreational activities, which can often lead to encounters with wildlife.
Antelope Island State Park is a popular recreational destination for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, camping, bird-watching and boating on the Great Salt Lake. The island is also home to many wildlife species, including mule deer, pronghorn and bison. A recent news report showed video of a trail runner being chased by a bison at Antelope Island.
Due to the large population of bison living on the island, it is quite common to see one of the animals. Jeremy Shaw, park manager at Antelope Island State Park, said in the winter months there are about 515 bison on the island, and after the female bison have their calves in the spring, it brings the total to about 750.
However, Shaw said during his eight years as park manager there, he has only received reports of three incidents where a bison was aggressive toward a visitor and called the recent incident, “very rare.”
“People get too close,” Shaw said. “They always want to get closer and closer and closer for photos or whatever. But ultimately, any time there is an interaction with wildlife, it’s because the people got too close.”
Shaw gave a few tips for how to avoid making a bison aggressive if you encounter one at the island:
- If you see a bison and it stops what it is doing and starts paying attention to you, you are too close and should slowly back away.
- If a bison is in the middle of the road, wait for it to pass. Do not get out of your vehicle.
- If a bison is on the side of the road, feel free to slowly drive past it. But again, stay inside your vehicle.
- If you see a bison in the distance, do not walk across the rangeland to get closer to it. Take your photos from a safe distance.
- If you are hiking and a bison is close to or on the trail, you should either back away and return the way you came, or leave the trail and give the animal a very wide berth when passing it. Shaw said it is OK to go off the trail if your safety is at risk.
“We’ve got trail restrictions on Antelope Island in the backcountry, but safety trumps those rules,” Shaw said. “If you are in the backcountry hiking and you come across any wildlife that’s in your path, we urge you to travel around it. However close you think you should be (to the wildlife), double it. That’s how far back you should stay.”
These safety tips also apply to other species of wildlife. For specifics on what to do when encountering different types of animals in the wild, visit the Wild Aware Utah website.