The Number of People Disturbing National Park Wildlife Doubled Last Year

Some visitors just can't seem to keep their hands to themselves.

It certainly feels like there is never a shortage of news stories about someone taking a selfie with a koala or trying to hug a bison. With social media, it can be hard to know if the frequency of these occurrences is inflated by the hyper visibility of certain incidents online, or if the number of these violations of protected wildlife is actually rising.

But, at least domestically, I can confirm that in 2023, there was a pretty dramatic uptick in the number of times people were disturbing wildlife inside the national parks. According to data the National Park Service shared with Thrillist, the number of citations for wildlife-related incidents more than doubled compared to 2022.

In 2023, 835 citations were issued to national park visitors for infractions relating to taking wildlife and disturbing wildlife nesting, breeding, and other activities. In 2022, there were 388 citations issued, and in 2021, there were 361.

The number of citations actually dramatically reduced in 2021 compared to 2020, and the years prior. This can be attributed to a reduction of national park visitors throughout 2021 and 2022. For instance, in 2021 there were 297 million visitors to the parks, and in 2022, there were 312 million. Comparatively, there were 327 million visitors in 2019.

And sure, 835 citations for bothering national park animals out of a few hundred million visitors isn’t a horrendous portion of the group, but it's not great either. Especially when you consider what the consequences of those behaviors are and that the numbers are trending dramatically upward.

“Approaching wild animals can drastically affect their well-being and, in this case, their survival. Park regulations require that people stay at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all wildlife (including bison, elk and deer) and at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves," the National Park Service said in a statement shared with Thrillist last May.

"Disregarding these regulations can result in fines, injury and even death," the statement continued. "The safety of these animals, as well as human safety, depends on everyone using good judgment and following these simple rules."

These simple rules are posted frequently throughout the park. But if you want to know the guidelines before you go, you can also find the national park wildlife policies on NPS.gov.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Journalism from NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She's worked in digital media for eight years, and before working at Thrillist, she wrote for Mic, The Cut, The Fader, Vice, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.