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Yellowstone bison video: Volcanic eruption not behind fleeing buffalo

Yellowstone bison running down a park road were not fleeing a volcano.
Yellowstone bison running down a park road were not fleeing a volcano.
YouTube

A Yellowstone bison stampede video that purported to show the bison fleeing for their lives because they sensed a volcano or earthquake in fact shows only one thing — that you still can’t believe everything you see on the Internet, the Christian Science Monitor reported on April 4.

The Yellowstone bison stampede video shows a small herd of bison running almost single file down a snowy hillside, onto a two-lane street, and then on down the road. The video, uploaded to YouTube and alarmingly titled, “ALERT! Yellowstone Buffalo Running for Their Lives!” prompted many people to actually contact officials at Yellowstone National Park to express their fears and concerns.

Some media outlets further fueled speculation about the Yellowstone bison by splashing headlines about volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Fox News, for instance, declared that, “Bison Exodus: Stampede Sparks Fears of Yellowstone Eruption.”

Fears were fueled when just two weeks after the bison video went viral, a series of small earthquakes, called an earthquake swarm, struck the Yellowstone area. Suddenly it seemed that perhaps the big beasts could predict an impending calamity.

But the real story behind the Yellowstone bison stampede video is much simpler and much less sinister.

The bison video is indeed real. It shows the Yellowstone bison running down the road, looking very determined to get somewhere quickly. But the bison were not running out of Yellowstone in advance of a natural disaster. They were running just to run, perhaps just happy that winter was on its way out and the grass was greening up — much like those happy Holland cows released to pasture after a long winter.

That’s according to Leo Leckie, a sales associate at the nonprofit Yellowstone Association who took the original Yellowstone bison video and nonchalantly posted it to his own Facebook page with a much tamer title of “Yellowstone bison on the run for the joy of Spring."

But like the Telephone Game gone awry, the Internet quickly determined that the Yellowstone bison weren’t just happy campers but rather were frightened beasts desperately running for their lives. In fact, Leckie told the Los Angeles Times that the bison were actually running deeper into Yellowstone, not attempting to flee the park, apparently simply for the joy of running.

In the end, the only eruption was the alarm bells from fearmongers and conspiracy theorists who twisted a sweet video of natural bison activity into something ominous and disturbing.

The real threat, some say, to the Yellowstone bison is actually the annual buffalo slaughter. In the buffalo slaughter, according to the Buffalo Field Campaign, the Interagency Bison Management Plan, Montana Department of Livestock inspectors and National Park Service rangers intercept and harass buffalo off their winter range and spring calving grounds and capture wild buffalo in a slaughter program done in partnership with Yellowstone National Park. Campaign organizers say that the bison slaughter has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,200 wild buffalo in the last decade.