Where the bison roam: Herd treads again on tribal land

The men stood by the edge of the corral to mark the release of the first buffalo to run on the Wind River Indian Reservation in decades.

The sound of their drums mixed with their voices lifted in song and the 10 buffalo shifted nervously before finally they bolted and ran out onto the grassy plain.

The buffalos’ first free steps on the reservation on Thursday marked a homecoming that’s been decades in the making for members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

Leslie Shakespeare, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, the tribe’s governing body, watched the buffalo move through the tall, parched yellow grass. “It’s very surreal, just seeing them released and seeing them run across the field here,” he said. “Seeing everybody’s emotions — a lot of people are real emotional.”

It’s been more than a century since buffalo wandered here, tribal members say. The federal government oversaw the extermination of enormous herds of buffalo in the late 1800s.

Jason Baldes, coordinator of the buffalo restoration effort for the Eastern Shoshone, said in a recent interview that the federal government encouraged the wanton slaughter of the buffalo after the cavalry’s defeat in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

“So what happened to the buffalo similarly happened to native people,” Baldes said. “And then we are now on isolated pockets of our former territories. Indians were relegated to reservations, and buffalo you know essentially are in isolated, small populations in their former territories and essentially are not even considered a wildlife species. Only in places like national parks are they valued for their role ecologically.”

The 10 buffalo released Thursday are from a genetically pure strain the federal government maintains on a refuge in Iowa. The National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have worked with the Eastern Shoshone on the restoration project.

Collin O’Mara, president of the Wildlife Federation, addressed the crowd at Thursdays’ release. He said an estimated 60 million buffalo roamed the West in the early 1800s only to drop to fewer than 100 at the turn of the last century.

“Partially it was for food, partially it was for meat but mainly it was for control of the land, to force tribes like the Shoshone to abandon their large ranges and be pushed onto reservations,” O’Mara said. “It is an injustice that for far too long has gone insufficiently acknowledged. I think what’s exciting today is that there’s a rebirth, a beginning.”

Matt Hogan, assistant regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said there have been times through the years when the federal government has stood on the wrong side of the buffalo issue. “And it’s truly humbling but oh so proud to now stand on the right side of this issue and help restore bison to this landscape,” he said.

The Eastern Shoshone share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho Tribe. The two have separate governments, but own the reservation lands jointly.

Ronald Oldman, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Council, said his tribe had considered restoring buffalo to reservation lands a few years ago but decided against it.

“I’m happy for the Shoshones to get their bison back here,” Oldman said in an interview this week. Asked whether his tribe plans to pursue the release of buffalo, he said, “It’s up to the people.”

Baldes said he hopes to see the buffalo released on Thursday ultimately lead to a herd of at least 1,000 animals. He said establishing such a herd on the reservation will allow children there to experience how their ancestors traditionally used the animals and share in understanding their spiritual importance.

“If we as human beings — human beings meaning Shoshone or Arapaho or non-native or the cattle industry — if we as human beings can get over our differences and see the importance of managing these creatures on a large landscape, then we can do it,” Baldes said.


As we celebrate Teddy Roosevelt’s birthday this week, we remember him as one of the first great conservationists – the president who saved the American Bison

By Keith Aune

As the United States turned 100 on July 4, 1876, Theodore Roosevelt was nearing a milestone birthday of his own. Only a few months shy of 18, he’d seen his nation fulfill its original promise, maturing into a more functional form of democratic governance, perhaps most plainly—and painfully—reflected in the civil war that redefined the principles of freedom.

As the nation tried to recover from the scars of its bloody conflict, across the continent the forces of territorial expansion had also taken their own toll on all things indigenous to the nation, from native peoples to the land and wildlife they depended upon.

At the time of Theodore Roosevelt’s birth on October 27, 1858, the population density of people and bison of the United States averaged roughly 10 and 17 per square mile, respectively. Only 42 years later,, upon Roosevelt’s election as vice president in 1900, there were about 25 people per square mile and bison were nearly extinct.

The decimation of this great mammal—the continent’s largest—from some 40 million to barely a thousand animals is tragedy on a staggering scale motivated by unrestrained resource exploitation for commercial purposes and misguided U.S. Indian policy

Theodore was a 7th generation Roosevelt of wealth and privilege, and enjoyed a resource rich environment that enabled him to explore nature from a more romantic viewpoint than most people living at that time. Perhaps as a consequence, he developed a significant fascination with American Bison. This fascination increased as he grew older, gained power, and enthusiastically pursued his interests as a hunter-conservationist and naturalist.

The American Bison, or buffalo as it was commonly known, symbolized the wild nature and western culture Roosevelt had come to love in his travels as a young man. He hunted and killed his first bison in 1883 at the age of 24 in Montana at Little Cannonball Creek. After the kill he danced enthusiastically around that buffalo to celebrate his success.

By the time of his second bison hunt in 1889, Roosevelt had become more restrained in his enthusiasm. In his journal, he recorded that in watching these massive animals, he experienced a “half-melancholy feeling,” noting that “Few indeed are the men who now have or evermore shall have, the chance of seeing the mightiest of American beasts, in all his wild vigor, surrounded by the tremendous desolation of his far-off mountain home.”

When the American Bison Society (ABS) formed in New York in 1905 at New York’s Bronx Zoo, Roosevelt was named honorary president. He had come to know the society’s first president, William Hornaday, through their membership in the Boone and Crockett hunting club, several of whose members were the key players behind the creation of the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS), which operated the Bronx Zoo.

Theodore Roosevelt routinely used his position as U.S. President to help prioritize conservation generally and to protect bison in particular. He even mentioned the concern for bison in his annual message to Congress on December 5, 1905 during his second term as U.S. president.

Beginning in 1907, the Bronx Zoo and ABS began shipping bison out west in an effort to repopulate the American plains from which the bison had been decimated. President Roosevelt supported the first three reintroductions: at the Wichita Mountains Reserve, Wind Cave National Park, and the National Bison Range.

These efforts reflected Roosevelt’s passionate determination to protect wild lands in the American west, an accomplishment he would later trumpet in his autobiography. There he writes that the many acts to preserve bison were key highlights in his tenure as President. Today, in large part due to Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy, there are approximately 30,000 wild bison living on Federal, Tribal, State and Private lands—as their millions of wild ancestors did in our nation’s early history.

It is in recognition of the bison’s central place in the nation’s natural history, native culture, and ecology that the 114th U.S. Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, adopting the American bison as the United States national mammal. The first Saturday of November—only days from Roosevelt’s birthday—is likewise recognized as National Bison Day.

As we celebrate Teddy Roosevelt’s birthday, we pay homage to his legacy as a protector of wild places and a founder of the modern conservation movement. One thing we know for sure. Given his youthful love of nature, commitment to ethical hunting, and legacy of conservation action, it is fair to credit Theodore Roosevelt as the President who saved the American bison.


Ice age bison DNA shows evidence of new route of human migration through the Rocky Mountains

A 13,000-year-old bison fossil has shown the most likely migration route of some of the first native Americans.

DNA from the bison remains has narrowed down when an ice-free corridor opened up along the Rocky Mountains during the late Pleistocene.

That corridor was a vital route for migrations between what is now Alaska and Yukon in the far north and the rest of the North American continent.

Researchers had previously suspected this was the way migrating humans and animals must have travelled, but were unclear about how and when it was used.

But now, a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the route was fully open by about 13,000 years ago.

While this route was closed when the very first humans moved south of the ice sheets into North America around 15,000 years ago (they probably took a Pacific coastal route), it is thought it later became a well-travelled thoroughfare in both directions.

“The opening of the corridor provided new opportunities for migration and the exchange of ideas between people living north and south of the ice sheets,” said Peter Heintzman, of UC Santa Cruz, who led the DNA analysis.

His coauthor Beth Shapiro, also from UC Santa Cruz, has previously shown that bison populations north and south of the ice sheets were genetically distinct by the time the corridor opened.

So, armed with that knowledge, the researchers have been able track the movement of northern bison southward, and southern bison northward.

“The radiocarbon dates told us how old the fossils were, but the key thing was the genetic analysis, because that told us when bison from the northern and southern populations were able to meet within the corridor,” Heintzman said.


Scientists Sequence Genome of Eurasian Wild Aurochs, an Extinct Species of Ox that Gave Rise to Modern Bison

A multinational team of researchers has sequenced the nuclear genome of the aurochs (Bos primigenius), an extinct species of ox that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa.

“This is the first complete nuclear genome sequence from the extinct Eurasian aurochs,” said Dr David MacHugh of University College Dublin, Ireland, corresponding author of a paper published online in the journal Genome Biology.

Domestication of the now-extinct wild aurochs gave rise to the two major domestic extant cattle species – Bos taurus and B. indicus.

While previous genetic studies have shed some light on the evolutionary relationships between European aurochs and modern cattle, important questions remain unanswered, including the phylogenetic status of aurochs, whether gene flow from aurochs into early domestic populations occurred, and which genomic regions were subject to selection processes during and after domestication.

To build a clearer picture of the ancestry of European cattle breeds, Dr MacHugh and his colleagues from the United States, the UK, China and Ireland, extracted genetic material from a bone of a 6,750 year old wild aurochs discovered in a cave in Derbyshire, England.

The scientists then sequenced its complete genome and compared it with the genomes of 81 domesticated Bos taurus and B. indicus animals, and DNA marker information from more than 1,200 modern cows.

They discovered clear evidence of breeding between wild British aurochs and early domesticated cattle.

“Our results show the ancestors of modern British and Irish breeds share more genetic similarities with this ancient specimen than other European cattle,” Dr MacHugh said.

“This suggests that early British farmers may have restocked their domesticated herds with wild aurochs.”

“Genes linked to neurobiology and muscle development were also found to be associated with domestication of the ancestors of European cattle, indicating that a key part of the domestication process was the selection of cattle based on behavioral and meat traits.”

The study contradicts earlier simple models of cattle domestication and evolution that researchers proposed based on mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosomes.

“What now emerges from high-resolution studies of the nuclear genome is a more nuanced picture of crossbreeding and gene flow between domestic cattle and wild aurochs as early European farmers moved into new habitats such as Britain during the Neolithic,” Dr MacHugh concluded.


Stephen D.E. Park et al. 2015. Genome sequencing of the extinct Eurasian wild aurochs, Bos primigenius, illuminates the phylogeography and evolution of cattle. Genome Biology 16: 234; doi: 10.1186/s13059-015-0790-2


Another bison attack at Yellowstone Park

By Jethro Mullen

Visitors to Yellowstone Park seem to be having trouble taking in the message that it’s not a good idea to get too close to the wild bison that roam the wilderness.

The latest person to find out the hard way is a 43-year-old Mississippi woman who tried to take a selfie with one of the hairy beasts near a trail on Tuesday.

She and her daughter turned their backs to the bison, which was about 6 yards away, to take a photo with it, according to the National Park Service.

“They heard the bison’s footsteps moving toward them and started to run, but the bison caught the mother on the right side, lifted her up and tossed her with its head,” the park service said in a statement Wednesday.

Her family drove her from the site of the attack, near the Fairy Falls trailhead, to the Old Faithful Clinic in the park for treatment. She was released with minor injuries.

The woman is the fifth person injured after approaching a bison in Yellowstone so far this season — and the third whose dangerous encounter resulted from photo-taking.

Park authorities make an effort to warn people not to get too close to animals.

“The family said they read the warnings in both the park literature and the signage, but saw other people close to the bison, so they thought it would be OK,” said Colleen Rawlings, a ranger in the park’s Old Faithful District. “People need to recognize that Yellowstone wildlife is wild, even though they seem docile. This woman was lucky that her injuries were not more severe.”

A 16-year-old girl from Taiwan was gored by a bison in May while posing for a photo near Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s famous geyser. She suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries from the attack.

And a 62-year-old Australian man was taking pictures within 5 feet of a bison near Old Faithful Lodge on June 2 when the animal charged and tossed him into the air several times, according to park officials. He was taken to a hospital for further medical treatment.

Park authorities instruct visitors not to go within 25 yards of bison and other large animals — and 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

“Bison can sprint three times faster than humans can run and are unpredictable and dangerous,” park officials warn.

On June 23, a 19-year-old Georgia woman was walking with friends to their car after a late-night swim in the Firehole River when they saw a bison lying about 10 feet away. The animal charged the teen and tossed her in the air, leaving her with minor injuries, the park service said.

Just over a week later, a 68-year-old Georgia woman was hospitalized after being attacked by a bison while hiking on Storm Point Trail.

As the woman passed the bison, it charged and gored her. She was taken by helicopter ambulance to a hospital outside the park.

Almost 5,000 bison live in Yellowstone, the only place in the United States where the animals have lived continuously since prehistoric times.


Bison attack two more Yellowstone visitors

Bison attacked two more visitors at Yellowstone National Park over the past week, for a total of four attacks in the park so far this season.

A 68-year-old Georgia woman remained hospitalized Thursday after encountering a bison while hiking Wednesday on Storm Point Trail, according to the National Park Service.

As she passed the bison, it charged and gored her. A witness reported the attack to a nearby ranger leading a hike, who called for help. Due to the serious nature of the woman’s injuries, she was taken by helicopter ambulance to a hospital outside the park. Her condition was unknown Thursday.

The other incident happened on June 23, when a 19-year-old Georgia woman and three friends who work at nearby Canyon Village were walking to their car after a late-night swim at the Firehole River. They saw a bison lying about 10 feet away, and one friend turned and ran. But the animal charged the teen and “tossed her in the air,” the park service said.

After the teen went to bed, she awoke a short time later feeling ill and called for medical help. She took an ambulance to a hospital outside the park and “was released with minor injuries later that day,” the park service said.

Four incidents in less than two months is a lot more than usual, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said. “We usually have one to two incidents per year,” she said.

Almost 5,000 bison live in Yellowstone, located mostly in Wyoming and the only place in the United States where the animals have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

Yellowstone’s regulations require visitors to stay at least 25 yards away from all large animals and 100 yards away from bears and wolves. “Bison can sprint three times faster than humans can run and are unpredictable and dangerous,” park officials warn.

Some tourists may provoke animals by getting too close to them. The consequences of treating wild animals like they’re domesticated or in a zoo can be deadly, officials say.

On June 2, a 62-year-old Australian man visiting Yellowstone was seriously injured after getting too close to a bison near Old Faithful Lodge.

The man was reportedly within 5 feet of the bison while taking pictures when the animal charged him and tossed him into the air several times, according to park reports. The man was taken to a hospital for further medical treatment.

On May 15, a 16-year-old Taiwanese girl was gored by a bison while posing for a photo near Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s famous geyser. She had been hiking near the bison, which was grazing next to a trail.

The girl suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries from the attack, the park service said.


Montana considers releasing wild bison outside Yellowstone

By Laura Zuckerman

Montana wildlife managers are asking the public to weigh in on a plan that could see the state establish a herd of wild bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park.

The state for three years has crafted measures that would need to be in place for the return of a publicly managed wild bison herd to Montana after a decades-long absence, state Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Tom Palmer said on Friday.

The agency has opened a 90-day comment period for proposals that range from taking no steps to restore bison to the landscape to reintroducing them on private or public acreage where there would be less competition with livestock for grass and a lower threat of disease transmission.

The state is not pinpointing where bison might be restored, Palmer said.

The options floated by the state come less than a year after it gave 145 bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park – which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – to a Native American tribe in Montana to further the conservation of the country’s last herd of wild, purebred bison.

Those animals had been quarantined to create a herd free of a disease, brucellosis, that could be transmitted to cows and cause them to miscarry.

The brucellosis-free band was later confined to a Montana ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved giving the animals to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Bison that wander out of Yellowstone into neighboring Montana in winter in a search for food have been targeted for capture or death by government officials because roughly half the herd has been exposed to brucellosis.

Montana wildlife managers will make no firm plans before assessing the public response. Systematic hunting reduced the nation’s vast wild herds to the fewer than 50 of the animals that found sanctuary at Yellowstone in the early 20th century.

Jay Bodner, natural resource director for Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the industry would seek to ensure that any projects eyed by the state spelled out how the massive creatures would be contained or fenced to prevent them from damaging private property and mingling with livestock.


Moon Bison

How will cows survive on the Moon?

One of the most vexing questions asked about space, scientists have spent decades debating this key issue.

Finally, after extensive computer modeling and over a dozen midnight milkings, engineers have designed, built, and now tested the new Lunar Grazing Module (LGM), a multi-purpose celestial bovine containment system.

Happy April Fool’s Day from APOD!

To the best of our knowledge, there are no current plans to launch cows into space. For one reason, cows tend to be large animals that don’t launch easily or cheaply. As friendly as cows may be, head-to-head comparisons show that robotic rovers are usually more effective as scientific explorers. The featured image is of a thought-provoking work of art named “Mooooonwalk” which really is on display at a popular science museum.


Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

American Bison charging parked SUV at Yellowstone National Park

An American bison being trailed by cars inside Yellowstone National Park took its anger out on a parked SUV in its path, ramming into the car that had two passengers inside.

Tom Carter, a 60-year-old attorney from Texas, was sitting inside a Nissan Xterra with his friend, Suzie Hollingsworth, a Yellowstone tour guide, when they saw a group of bison approaching them head-on.

Carter pulled out his phone just in time to record a video of the bison veering off on its own and ramming their SUV.

“We did everything we could think of to do to avoid problems,” Carter told ABC News. “I figured that they would just keep running right by us at a full gallop but at the last minute it intended to hit us.”

“It was mad,” he said. “It pretty clearly intended to hit us.”

Carter, who spent six summers as a Yosemite tour guide in the 1970s, says the bison were being followed by, “essentially a line of cars that was chasing them into us.” The incident occurred in an area of the park known as Lamar Valley.

Carter says the bison’s angry outburst is likely attributed to the agitation of the cars as well as the mild winter the area of Wyoming in which Yosemite is located has received.

“It’s been a really light winter and the animals are a lot more feisty this winter,” he said. “Normally the winters are so harsh they don’t want to expend any outside fuel.”

The bison caused nearly $2,800 in damages to the SUV, which belongs to Carter’s friend, Hollingsworth. Neither she nor Carter was injured inside the vehicle.

“We turned the engine off which was a good thing because the air bags probably would have deployed,” said Carter, who estimated the bison weighed around 2,000 pounds.

“We were never concerned about safety,” he said. “The buffalo picked on something about its own size. We were laughing about it because it was kind of crazy.”

Carter’s video of the mid-February event has received nearly 400,000 views on YouTube. He later posted a video showing the damage to Hollingsworth’s car.

He says the bison walked away unscathed. “It sort of shook its head and continued along the road,” Carter said.