A woman was jailed for four days after getting too close to a grizzly bear and two cubs in Yellowstone national park and refusing to move away, even as the animal charged.
Samantha Dehring, 25 and from Illinois, pleaded guilty to “willfully remaining, approaching and photographing wildlife within 100 yards”, federal authorities said, following the incident in May.
A video of the interaction shows Dehring taking photos of the grizzly and two cubs as other visitors retreat to their cars, the bear then “bluff” charging her before moving away.
Visitors to the vast Yellowstone national park are prohibited from getting within 100 yards of a bear, feeding a bear or approaching it to take pictures.
The US justice department said that in addition to prison time, Dehring was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and a $1,000 community service payment to a wildlife protection fund and to carry out one year of unsupervised probation. She was also banned from Yellowstone, an ecosystem that spans Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, for a year.
“Wildlife in Yellowstone national park are, indeed, wild,” said Bob Murray, acting US attorney for Wyoming.
“The park is not a zoo where animals can be viewed within the safety of a fenced enclosure. They roam freely in their natural habitat and when threatened will react accordingly.
“Approaching a sow grizzly with cubs is absolutely foolish. Here, pure luck is why Dehring is a criminal defendant and not a mauled tourist.”
Grizzly bears typically avoid interaction with people, though may approach if food is available or if they feel threatened, particularly with cubs.
Encounters between people and grizzlies are on the rise as the species, which was once close to extinction, recovers and spreads into places in the US west where they have not been seen in decades.
Millions of tourists visit Yellowstone, known for its wildlife and spectacular geysers, each year, with a record 921,844 visitors this August.
Park rules forbid the harassment of wildlife but incidents do occur, such as when a nine-year-old girl was tossed into the air by a bison after getting too close in 2019. Three years previously, a newborn bison calf died after tourists decided to put the animal in their car because they thought it looked cold.
Despite the huge number of visitors and concentration of bears, human fatalities are rare. The chance of a grizzly attack in Yellowstone is one in every 2.7m visits. In the entire ecosystem, there have been just 16 recorded bear-caused human fatalities since 1892.