As It Happens

Canadian who put baby bison in SUV defends his decision after court order

A Quebec man is ordered to pay a fine after he tried to rescue a baby bison in Yellowstone National Park. The animal was later euthanized.
The Kassams say the bison was shivering and had been abandoned by its herd. (Shamash Kassam)
A Wyoming judge has ordered Shamash Kassam to stop putting bison in the back of his SUV.

The Quebec man first made the news in May after a photo went out on social media showing a baby bison in the back of his vehicle. Kassam had been driving through Yellowstone National Park and thought the animal needed help. When park wardens tried to return the animal to its herd, the animal was shunned and the wardens were forced to put it down.

Shakeel Kassam and his father Shamash say they didn't want to leave the baby bison to be 'road kill.' (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Yellowstone is constantly reminding visitors to leave the animals alone but Kassam says he felt compelled to take action after he learned from another bystander that the bison struggled to cross a nearby river and had fallen behind the rest of the herd.

"She told us that it was almost collapsing," Kassam recalls. "Slowly it walked towards the car and was leaning against the radiator to warm up."

Kassam and his son agreed the bison was "shivering violently" but eventually drove off and left the animal with the other bystander. About half a mile down the road Kassam had a change of heart and turned back to check whether the animal's mother had returned.

"Before we even stopped the calf came running towards us," Kassam explains.

At this point the other vehicle had left and Kassam says the calf was completely alone. He tried to call 911 but there was no signal. After deliberating with his son, Kassam decided to put the bison in the car and deliver it to the ranger office.

"I picked him up by the belly and put him in the SUV, in the back," Kassam admits.

A bison grazes in Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner, Mont., in this March 9, 2016 photo. (Matthew Brown/Associated Press)

The ranger understood Kassam was trying to do the right thing but issued him a ticket. It wasn't until Kassam returned to Montreal that he learned the bison had been euthanized and that the park was unable to reintegrate the animal with the herd.

On Thursday, Kassam pleaded guilty to a charge of wildlife disturbance. He will pay a $235 fine and donate $500 to Yellowstone Foundation.
It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within ANY distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.- Yellowstone National Park

He says many people who have seen the photos have got it wrong. It isn't true that he put a seatbelt around the bison. Kassam says that is just how it appears in the photograph. 

Kassam understands why some people feel he should have let nature take its course. But he insists, in Africa, where he lived near a reserve, people would often pick up abandoned animals to rescue them.

"Being a human being I thought I was doing the kind thing. I didn't know that they didn't have these kind of facilities over there to look after their animals," Kassam explains. "Now I know that they don't have the facilities. They just let nature take its course and let it die. Had I left it there it would have still died — it wouldn't have made any difference."

When asked if he would do it again, Kassam replies "Not in Yellowstone Park. But if I was in Africa, I would definitely do it."

To hear more about what happened that day, take a listen to our full interview with Shamash Kassam.


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