Red Fleet State Park in Utah is home to an incredible selection of dinosaur tracks imprinted in the sandstone millions of years ago but recently, visitors have been ripping them out of the ground and chucking them into a nearby lake.
Why? No one's quite sure but the vandals probably aren't aware of what it is they are destroying.
“Some of the tracks are very distinct to the layperson,” Josh Hansen, Red Fleet State Park's Manager, said in a statement. ”But just as many are not. That is why it is important to not disturb any rocks at the dinosaur trackway.”
According to Devan Chavez, a spokesperson from the Utah Division of State Parks, at least 10 large slabs with visible footprints ranging from 8 to 43 centimeters (3 to 17 inches) have gone missing in the last six months – and that's just a conservative estimate, reports the Associated Press (AP).
“It’s become quite a big problem,” Chavez told the AP. “They’re just looking to throw rocks off the side. What they don’t realize is these rocks they’re picking up, they’re covered in dinosaur tracks.”
Hansen caught one adolescent as he was about to hurl a lump of stone with two toe imprints into the Red Fleet Reservoir.
“I saved that one,” Hansen told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He had already thrown multiple [tracks in the water].”
These imprints aren't technically fossils, even if they are treated like them under the Utah code. Instead, they are the remnants of dinosaur tracks left in an environment that was once a mud-and-moss-filled bog but is now just desert.
Palaeontologists think they came from Dilophosaurus, a 6-meter-long (20-foot-long), double-crested raptor that lived in North America during the Early Jurassic Period 190 million years ago and is probably best known today for its role in Jurassic Park. Experts believe the predatory beasts lay in wait for other dinosaurs so they could attack when their prey was resting.
The team says it plans to crack down on this destructive behavior and while no felonies have been charged as of yet, it's something they may consider in future.
The main thing they want to focus on is education: The park is erecting additional signs requesting that people do not touch the sandstone and asking everyone to help spread the word.
As for the slabs already AWOL, the park is planning to send a diving team into the water to retrieve any lying on the lakebed, though "some of them are likely lost forever", admitted Chavez.