A man with a drone caused 1,500 elk to stampede half a mile, wildlife refuge officials say.
The massive bout of elk panic occurred at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Elk Refuge near Jackson, Wyoming, according to the Associated Press. Refuge spokesperson Lori Iverson told the AP the drone’s operator, who hailed from Washington, D.C., launched his flying machine from a highway pull-off and used it to fly over the resting herd of elk, prompting them to make a break for it.
A person driving a sleigh saw the incident and contacted authorities, according to the Jackson Hole Daily, a local newspaper.
“He felt really bad,” Iverson told the paper. “He was just unaware of the regulations.”
Drones have become an increasingly common site at the National Elk Refuge in recent years, deputy refuge manager Cris Dippel said in a statement.
“There are plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities for people on the National Elk Refuge during the winter,” Dippel said. “We ask people to do use caution and good wildlife ethics while viewing and photographing animals.”
Fines for disturbing wildlife in the area can run as high as $5,000.
Elk and bison gather at the refuge to eat food placed there by conservationists to help them endure the long, cold Wyoming winter. The animals often congregate in the area for up to six months during the colder part of the year.
The elk, also known as the wapiti, is one of the largest mammals to walk the face of North America today, growing to more than half a ton and standing up to five feet tall at the shoulder.