Custer State Park officials are making yet another appeal for visitors to keep their distance from bison after a woman was gored Thursday she approached a bull.
The woman received serious injuries that were not considered life threatening. But she was airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Puglsey said Friday that she made a mistake that seemed to get repeated by a very few number of park visitors.
“So we are always trying to warn our park visitors about buffalo in particular because they are so large,” he said.
But size is only half the problem. Despite their sluggish appearance, they’re fast, too.
“They look docile, but they’re big,” Pugsley said. “Six feet high at the shoulder, weigh up to 2,000 pounds and can move faster than a horse.”
Which is a bad combination to be moving in the direction of a human on foot. The latest example could have turned out worse.
“Down on the Wildlife Loop Road, kind of what we call Movie Draw, where a lot of previous movies were shot,” says park visitor services coordinator Craig Pugsley. “And a visitor approached a buffalo.”
That’s a bad idea, unless you’re another bison, or you’re in a vehicle. Because call them what you will, bison or buffalo, they need their space.
“We’re the guests in the wildlife’s home,” Pugsley said. “And we need to really respect them and give them the proper distance that they need.”
Puglsey says that’s about 100 yard if you’re near your vehicle, two or three hundred if you’re exploring on foot. Signs and brochures offer guidance, as does an interactive feature in the new visitor center.
“We have a display where if you walk up to it, a buffalo will appear on the screen and it gives you some verbal warnings if you’re getting too close,” he said.
The on-screen bison acts like the real thing after that.
“The tail will raise, the head will shake, it will paw the ground and you’ve entered my space, back off,” Pugsley said.
Tourists on the Wildlife Loop Road today seemed happy to stay in their vehicles, and not just because of light rain. Chris Ponticello was out from Pennsylvanian with his wife and college-age daughter, exploring the west.
And viewing bison from a safe place – inside their pickup.
Ponticello said he and his family spent the night at the State Game Lodge and read about the attack.
“It’s a real reminder to all of us that these are real wild animals,” he said. “We’ve invaded their territory and we’ve got to be respectful of them.”
Along with all the other warnings presented to park visitors, Pugsley says seasonal and regular park employees consistently warn visitors in person when they seem them venturing too near the bison. He says each year a few visitors ignore those warnings, at their peril.