Photographer Has A Close Encounter With An Elk

They say photography opens doors to new adventures and experiences. Well, for photographer James York, he literally went head to head with a wild Elk in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The story goes as such: while James York was photographing an elk from a distance, the animal decided to do something unusual: it decided to get closer and investigate the human and his camera. As interesting as this sounds, unfortunately the ending of this story is a sad one.

Original video description:

While photographing elk at sunrise in the Cataloochee Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park I turned around to see what appeared to be just a curious young bull sniffing a photographer's camera. I snapped a few frames of the apparent harmless encounter.

But the elk became more interested in making trouble than simply the scent of a camera. He started physically harassing the photographer, escalating to full on head-butts.

I quickly switched the camera to video and let it roll (much of the time wondering when I should seriously consider intervening).

Most people who see this ask why the photographer seems to just take the abuse. I asked him in an email what was going through his head. This 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!"

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Not long after this incident, a local NBC new affiliate reported that the Elk had to be put down (read their article to learn more details):

"An elk who went viral after a close-up encounter with a photographer was euthanized Friday, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials confirmed Friday evening.

Park officials said the elk could not be re-trained to be fearful of humans. They said the elk had been coming back to that area in search of food, and had begun associating humans with food."


The original videographer that documented the event and photographer James York issued an official statement in response to the elk being killed:

"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 (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."


It seemed possible to me that if the elk decided to aim its horn a little differently, that photographer would have some serious injuries, even if it was being playful.

What do you think about the decision of the elk being put down? Have you had any close encounters with mother nature?

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did he get some good closeup shots can we see ?

@disqus_dgZjQRDFAp:disqus I was thinking the same thing! did he at least get a great shot... but none the less its too bad that animal had to die, i don't really understand why it had to die either we invade their home. Its only natural that they take us humans as an opportunity to be fead we take any opportunity to exploit nature. why should a animal be afraid of us? we hurt nature more than they hurt us. I don't know...

I kept wanting him to grab the horns, like you would with an annoying cow. That's really unfortunate that he had to die. Poor blighter.

christian lacasse's picture

I'd be scared to get killed by these sharp horns...

This is the kind of story I hate to hear. I have seen first hand just how stupid some tourists can be around wildlife. Unfortunately, it is usually the animals who are made to suffer following an incident that was essentially caused by human stupidity.

I mean really people, get a clue. I've seen moronic people attempt to walk up to Buffalo with their young. I'm not talking the photographer, I'm talking about those who trained the elk to seek food from people

People always think they're "getting closer to nature" by feeding wild animals. A a local park where migratory birds pass through, people are always feeding what have now become the local geese. They never leave the spot because they know they will be fed daily. I saw one person in a convenience store buying FIVE loaves of bread to go feed the geese, ducks, and various other birds and animals in the local park, even though there are signs clearly stating not to feed the wildlife, with a fine for doing so.

If you have problem with that i bet you will hate the government's wellfare system too. If the same logic applies, the next step would be fine the gov and kill who are under wellfare

You need to get over that.

i've been almost that close to a moose in Algonquin, Canada, though we wisely kept our car between us and the animal. i've also backtracked along a muddy trail in Horton Plains, Sri Lanka, and found leopard pug marks overlapping my bootprints. watching this, i kept thinking the photographer's going to get an antler through his eye if he doesn't get out of there. but it was pretty cool the way he switched cameras and kept shooting.

Maybe, we humans are the ones that need to be "retrained."

No WILD animal should be put down for doing what's in there nature to do. If we would give them the proper space that they deserve this kind of cruelty would not happen. Because euthanasia of any animal who's not sick and suffering is cruel. Why are the animals always the ones being punished for human carelessness?

I m disgusted by this. The gov is a killer and so are its representatives