A brief video of bison purportedly "running for their lives" to escape a pending eruption of Yellowstone National Park's "super-volcano" had federal officials scrambling Thursday to allay fears in the region recently rattled by a spate of earthquakes.
No wonder. The video spawned dozens of news reports, including one on CNN, attempting to answer this question: Can animals predict a major earthquake or eruption?
The spreading anxiety was caused by baseless rumors and deliberate misrepresentations of what those bison were actually doing in the video, according to Leo Leckie, a sales associate of the nonprofit Yellowstone Assn., an educational partner of Yellowstone National Park.
Leckie ought to know. He shot the video, which lasts 1 minute and 9 seconds and was originally posted March 14 on his Facebook page under the title, "Yellowstone bison on the run for the joy of Spring."
"Those bison were running for the sake of running," Leckie said in an interview Thursday. "There was nothing chasing them. There was no mudslide. They were just running."
Added Leckie: "And they were running into the park, not away from it."
The trouble started two weeks later, "after we had a swarm of earthquakes here — one of them a 4.8."
"That's when things really exploded," he said. "Eruptionists and conspiracists pirated the video and misrepresented it, suggesting that it was shot after the earthquakes. Then news agency after news agency started picking up on it, without looking at the original video to see what my actual intent was."
"My little video went from 20 hits to more than 90,000 hits," he said. "It's amazing how quickly and rapidly information can be repackaged to convey something other than its original intent."
As for chances of a massive eruption, Al Nash, a spokesman for Yellowstone National Park, concludes his own video on the topic this way: "We've seen no signs to suggest that Yellowstone's volcano is about to erupt."