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Home on the Range

Bison get positive report on health inspection

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The Bison Range celebrated another successful round up this year with about 400 animals getting their annual check up.

The National Bison Range can only support so many animals, so when the numbers go over what the habitat can support, the surplus animals are sold or donated with first consideration going to supplement public herds, often on National Wildlife Refuges. Private individuals are also allowed to bid on the animals in a silent auction. Folks participating in the auction are allowed to know the age and gender of each animal before submitting a sealed bid.

This year, 25 bison were donated to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. Thirty-five bison were sold during the private auction. “That is about average,” volunteer Pat Jamieson said of the numbers. She worked at the range for 20 years before retiring and comes back every year to help during the round up. She said the range has been doing a round up for at least 50 years.

During the health check, the bison are weighed, some are tested for disease, and calves are given a genetic test to determine their history. Each bison has an electronic chip the size of a grain of rice implanted under the skin with information stored about health history, genetics and weight. That information can be scanned during the round up or if needed in the field.

“They all looked good this year,” she said. “We didn’t see any that looked skinny.”

This past year, the winter was mild, and spring rains produced fields of green grass.

“They had plenty of food through the summer,” she said. During the round up, about 1,000 elementary school students visited the range.

“We had more educational opportunities for the kids this year,” she said.

The students played a pollinator game. “They collected pollen from flowers,” Jamieson said. Students also participated in the animal Olympics where they jumped like frogs and other animals. The students also looked at butterfly wings and bison bones.

“It was a little wet during the round up this year so the kids liked going into the tents with the activities,” she said.

The cool, damp weather made it easier to move the bison through the corrals and it kept the dust down. About 50 staff members and volunteers worked the bison through the corrals.

“We had a couple old bulls stay out on the range,” she said. “What do you do when a 2,000 pound bull doesn’t want to move? You let him be.”

The Bison Range visitor’s driving loop on Red Sleep Drive is closing on Oct. 16 for the season.

“It will close early if we get snow,” she said. “So people still have time to visit the range.”

Visitors have reported seeing a lot of wildlife this year including bears, possibly due to the increased amount of berries.

“We also have a grizzly bear with two older cubs,” she said. Grizzly bears usually walk though the range but they don’t stay.

“They’ve been here since the middle of summer,” she said. “I don’t know if she will move on, but she has been here for a while.”

Fishing access is temporarily closed on the range while the grizzly and her cubs are making the area home. Updates on range closures are available at bison_range.

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