CASPER, Wyo. — The annual elk mating season, widely known as the rut, has started in Yellowstone National Park, and park officials are issuing stern warnings to visitors to keep their distance and prioritize safety.

During this season, bull elk are especially unpredictable and can act aggressively, posing risks to those who get too close. Incidents of severe injuries to humans have been reported in the past, primarily because elk can sprint at surprising speeds and change directions suddenly, according to a news release by Yellowstone National Park.

“You are responsible for your own safety,” park officials stress, recommending a minimum distance of 25 yards — roughly equivalent to two bus lengths — from these large mammals. Should an elk approach someone, they should back away promptly.

In the unfortunate event that an elk charges, individuals should immediately seek shelter in their vehicles or behind tall, sturdy barriers. If no shelter is accessible nearby, running away is advised.

Visitors wishing to capture the moment are urged to “give them room, use your zoom.” Approaching or pursuing animals for the perfect shot is strongly discouraged. To safely photograph elk during the rut, lenses with focal lengths of 300mm or greater are recommended for sufficient distance.

Park rangers are on duty to assist and provide directions for safe wildlife viewing. Visitors are encouraged to heed all advice and instructions from park personnel to ensure not just their safety, but also that of the elk.

For more information on safety guidelines during the elk mating season, consult park rangers or visit the Yellowstone National Park website.