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Elk vs photographer encounter draws NPS death sentence (video)

By Anne Sewell     Nov 17, 2013 in World
It happened in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A photographer was taking shots at sunrise in the Cataloochee Valley when a bold young bull elk started sniffing his camera. The whole thing was caught on video, which led to the elk's death.
In the video description, Vince Camiolo explains that he just wanted to capture a few frames of what was apparently a harmless encounter between animal and man. The photographer sat on the ground calmly, not inciting any action from the elk.
But then the elk got a little more bold and started harassing the photographer, and ended up full-on head butting him.
Camiolo explains that he then quickly switched his camera over to video mode and captured the whole thing, while wondering if he should actually be intervening in the incident.
The photographer eventually gets up calmly and walks to his vehicle, leaving behind some of his equipment, which he later goes back to collect.
Most commenters on the video asked why the photographer simply accepted the abuse from the elk. Camiolo sent James York, the photographer, an email and below is his response:
"My first thoughts were 'wow, he's getting pretty damn close here.' But I've been up close before without incident. I hoped being still and passive would see him pass on. When he lowered his antlers to me, I wanted to keep my vitals protected and my head down. I felt that standing up would provoke him more and leave me more vulnerable to goring. I think that while protecting myself with my head down, having my head down was a signal that I was rutting with him. I was concerned at first, but when he started rearing back and lunging at me later on, I got scared and pissed off. That's when I wagged my finger at him to cut that shit out. I was relieved to see the Ranger coming."
"So I guess at some point if the Ranger hadn't of pulled up, I would have had to disengage the best I could. I've joked with my friends that at least he took me for a buck and not a cow!"
Unfortunately the fact that this video went viral on YouTube caused the animal's death sentence, as the National Park Service (NPS) decided to put the elk down.
Apparently the decision was based on a pattern of aggressive behavior which occurred prior to the incident documented above. Elks were generally becoming more bold and started approaching humans. Regrettably the elk's behavior led to visitors feeding the elk, which conditions them to then seek food from humans and the video shows an example of the results of this.
NPS spokeswoman Dana Soehn said that the video “was the first incident that we know of that the elk engaged in physical contact” with a visitor. The footage “was a critical step in the decision-making” to euthanize.
“This was not a one-time incident,” she said. “(The video) was a trigger; the physical contact escalated our decision.”
On finding out that the elk had been killed, Camiolo updated the video description:
"I am deeply saddened by the fate of the elk. It has certainly pulled a black cloud over this whirlwind 'viral video' experience."
He is now seeking to give the proceeds from the video to help the NPS educate visitors on the dangers and consequences of feeding wildlife.
Camiolo also explained that York, the photographer, did nothing in his behavior to lead to the demise of the elk.
He says, "The elk approached him from behind, likely looking for food as he was conditioned to do."
Camiolo also published a statement from the photographer:
"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."
More about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA, Elk, Bold, Shot
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