June 7, 2016 – Washingtonpost.comThe Yellowstone National Park tourists who loaded a baby bison into the back of an SUV last month say they thought the calf was already abandoned and believed they were doing a “nice thing” for the animal, which was later euthanized.
“It was the way it was presented (in news coverage), it was like we didn’t know what we were doing,” one of the men, Shamash Kassam, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an interview that aired Friday. The media, Kassam said, reported that “we picked up the bison because it was shivering — that was not the reason why. We picked up the bison because it was abandoned by the herd.”
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He also noted: “We thought we were doing a nice thing by taking it to the rangers.”
A photo of the calf in the back of the SUV sparked widespread outrage in the wake of the early-May incident, with the actions of Shamash Kassam and his son, Shakeel, widely criticized.
In a news release, the park cautioned that “interference by people” can cause mothers to reject their young. The park also said that the calf the Kassams had picked up had to be killed.
“In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd,” a Yellowstone statement said. “These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.”
ABC News reported that the father and son thought the calf would have died if they hadn’t stepped in.
[Previously: Baby bison dies after Yellowstone tourists put it in their car because it looked cold]
“We didn’t have the heart to, kind of, just leave it there and let it suffer, you know, as the darkness descended,” Shakeel Kassam told ABC News.
He said he and his father had “no idea it was going to turn out so bad like that.”
“I thought it was going to be a happy ending, and the calf was going to be integrated with another herd, and everything was going to be fine,” he said.
Shakeel Kassam told ABC News that when they spotted the bison in the park, they initially decided to leave it alone. But his father later changed his mind, according to “Good Morning America.”
“I told him, let’s go see what is happening, because that thing is going to be eaten alive,” Shamash Kassam said in the interview.
The Kassams didn’t have cellphone service, ABC reported, so they loaded up the calf and connected with a park ranger, who gave them a “good scolding,” Shakeel Kassam said.
They followed the ranger to try to return the calf to where they first encountered it, but the animal resisted.
“I did my best. I lifted it up. It started kicking. Put it down. I tried to push it. And it did not want to go,” Shakeel Kassam said.
Finally, they took the bison toward the herd and left it there.
“And then the ranger told us, ‘You go away because he wants to follow you.’ So once we went away, he was able to join with the other herd … So that was the end of it,” said Shamash Kassam, a Quebec resident.
Shamash Kassam was fined after pleading guilty to a wildlife disturbance citation, according to the CBC. As part of his probation, he was also told that he “shall not pick up any more bison,” CBC reports.
As The Post’s Karin Brulliard has previously reported, bison calves typically nurse for at least seven months. A Yellowstone spokeswoman told The Post that she did not know how old the deceased calf was, but she said it was “certainly dependent on mother’s milk.” Park officials did not consider feeding the calf until it was able to feed on grass, spokeswoman Charissa Reid said, in part because it’s not terribly unusual that calves separated from their mothers starve to death or are killed by predators.
“In Yellowstone, it’s not a zoo,” Reid said. “We don’t manage for individuals; we manage for ecosystems.”
About 4,900 bison, which recently became America’s national mammal, live in Yellowstone. Park regulations require visitors to stay at least 25 yards, or 75 feet, away from all wildlife, including bison, and 100 yards from wolves and bears.