A young elk was put down late Friday after being put in the spotlight by an amateur video that caught the animal headbutting a nature photographer, officials said.
The footage, which went viral last week, showed lensman James York sitting beside a road in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Asheville, North Carolina, as the one-and-a-half-year-old elk continues to headbutt him and periodically jab its antlers.
The YouTubed incident was the tipping point for park officials since the elk had a history of unmanageable behavior, Dana Soehn, a spokeswoman at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, told NBC News.
Soehn said that since September the elk had been "hazed" an estimated 28 times. Hazing includes shooting the animal with bean bags and paint balls, running after the elk as well as lighting firecrackers to scare it off, Soehn explained.
"Most (elks) respond to this," she said.
Park officials also darted, captured and released the elk in a different location within the park, Soehn said. But the elk returned to the same place and grew increasingly undaunted by the presence of people.
"The decision (to euthanize) was not made lightly," she said, adding the decision not to put the animal down posed "an unacceptable risk."
"(It's) not a chance we can take with children in the area," she said.
Photographer Vince M. Camiolo, the onlooker who captured the viral video, told NBC News that when he learned park officials had put the elk down he was "really shaken" by the news.
"It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it was devastating," he said. "I felt very responsible. I still do."
Meanwhile, York told NBC News that although he's sorry the elk was put down he "in no way" feels responsible for the elk's death.
"I'm getting tired of being blamed," he said, citing comments on the video, which has more than one million views on YouTube.
York said he didn't approach the elk and that he had been sitting in that spot for an hour.
He suffered several abrasions to his head, but wasn't seriously injured.
"It was a no-win situation for the park," York said. "If they hadn't put him down the park would be liable. I think (the elk) was a problem waiting to happen."
Soehn said the unique behavior of the elk is linked to people feeding wildlife, which makes animals less afraid of humans. She said what can appear to be playful behavior can quickly escalate to aggressive and dangerous.
The is the first time park officials have had to put an elk down for this type of behavior, Soehn said.
First published November 18 2013, 11:45 AM