- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Bison have injured four people in Custer State Park this year, despite warnings that the animals are dangerous and shouldn’t be approached, park official say.

The attacks have come after a five-year stretch of no such incidents, said Gary Brundige, the park’s resource program manager.

“We’re constantly warning people to stay back and don’t approach buffalo,” Brundige told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/29bBGUw ). “The safest place to watch them is from your car.”

Park officials said the latest two injuries happened Thursday. In the first incident, a person was charged by a bison, fell down and was trampled. In the second incident, a person was charged and gored, resulting in a leg laceration.

Brundige said both victims got too close to groups of bison that were clustered on the park’s west side. Members of each person’s party apparently transported them to seek medical treatment immediately after each incident. The park released no further information about the victims or their medical status.

Two other injury-producing bison encounters happened in May. One visitor tried to pat a bison on the head and was gored in the abdomen and tossed several feet in the air. Another person approached a bison and was knocked to the ground.

Brundige has no definitive explanation for the sudden rash of human injuries from bison encounters this season. He said it could be the result of increased visitation, driven partly by a new visitor center and a run of sunny days without rain. Through the end of May, camping activity at the park was already up 13 percent over the same period in 2015.

There are currently about 1,300 bison in the park, and they are one of the main attractions for the park’s nearly 2 million visitors. Though bison can appear docile when grazing, they are wild animals that can stand up to 6 feet tall, weigh up to 2,000 pounds and run as fast as 35 mph.

The only known bison-connected human fatality at the park happened in 2001, when an elderly Michigan man died after being gored.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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