As summer nears and the weather warms, Grand Canyon National Park is preparing for another season of tourists and sightseers. According to the Associated Press, each year over five million visitors flock to the attraction, and 2,000 permanent residents call it home. Many are here to gaze in wonder at possibly the most famous canyon in the world, others come for the unspoiled nature and wildlife. The wildlife, however, are not exactly thrilled with influx of humans and perhaps more importantly, cars.

Park rangers are increasingly worried that careless visitors could injured by large number of elk in the area. The large animals have gotten used to living near humans and often find themselves pacing along roads or even roaming close to inhabited areas. This concerns park officials because elk can be unpredictable and have a reputation for stubborness, especially during mating season.

“We’ve had people injured, and as the near-misses accumulate, you think, ‘Wow, you’re lucky,'” Martha Hahn, the park’s resource and science manager, told the Los Angeles Times. “But all it’s going to take is one person gored and thrown over the edge of the canyon. It’s something we take very seriously. We need to decrease this human-elk interaction in a progressive way, and fast.”

Elk were once a rare sight in Grand Canyon National Park, but in the early 1930s a number of the animals were transported to the area from Yellowstone. The elk naturally settled in the Grand Canyon by following easily accessible water sources. The animals also like to chow down on the park’s well-groomed lawns and foliage.

“They’re incredibly comfortable here,” said wildlife program manager Greg Holm. “We want them to become less comfortable. And that’s a hard thing to do.”

However, park officials say that is the bad habits of tourists that are to blame for the altercations. Residents often see visitors bringing children close to the large animals for a photo, or approaching the elk and trying to pet it. Wild animals, park officials stress, can always be dangerous. Bull elk can grow up to 800 pounds and can easily injure or kill a human. Rangers responded to over 90 elk-related emergencies since 2008, including broken bones and one goring incident. So far no deaths have been reported, and park rangers aim to keep it that way.

“They’ve completely lost their fear of humans,” said biologist Brandon Holton.

Roads have become increasing clogged as curious visitors stop to photograph the elk. Volunteer crew at the park cleared over 115 of these traffic jams in a period of just 53 days last year. In an effort to keep the animals away from the more populated areas of the park, officials are considering moving water sources and replacing the park’s grassy lawns with more common vegetation. Visitors are also being explicitly told not to approach or feed the wildlife.

Image courtesy National Park Service

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