Over the past month, BFC patrols were monitoring another injured adult female buffalo. Her hips were in bad shape but the cause of injury was not obvious. We weren’t sure if she had been struck by a car, or whether she had been born that way. Nevertheless, she migrated from deep within Yellowstone all the way to Horse Butte, and was putting on weight and doing her best to keep up with the herd. We were keeping a close eye on her every day and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, residents from Yellowstone Village thought she was so badly off that they contacted our new Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) game warden.
The game warden came out to observe her a couple of times for short periods and felt she wasn’t going to make it. Even though BFC is out with these buffalo every day, observing their behavior and migrations, he didn't contact us to discuss the situation. On Tuesday he shot her. Her body was taken to the compost pile at the local dump. We contacted FWP’s Region 3 Director, who had no knowledge of the incident, but he agreed that we needed to open the lines of communication with our new game warden. We called him and, to his credit, he felt that he was committing an act of compassion, that the buffalo wouldn't have made it. He was trying to do what he thought was best for her. He also said he has spent a lot of time in Gardiner and has seen enough of buffalo being shot, wounded, and left for dead. We certainly know how he feels. We talked about the need to be in communication with each other when such situations occur, before such drastic measures are taken. We also talked about how much more beneficial it would have been to allow her body to be food for grizzly bears than be thrown away like trash. He agreed and said he did contact a bear biologist, but was unable to make contact. We always suggest relocating carcasses deeper into the forest so that grizzly bears can find them on their own, away from humans, and eat in peace.
When you take the time to listen to non-humans, they will tell you where they are. We make mistakes too, but we spend enough time with these buffalo, through good times and bad, that we understand them better than most. We experienced this back in December when a female buffalo was hit by a vehicle. She made it clear that she was in pain, afraid, and dying, so we made the difficult call to help her. Many of you will recall the other injured mama who died in Yellowstone Village a few weeks ago; she was much worse off than the buffalo killed this week, but she had the will to live and kept right on trying. Although she didn’t ultimately make it, she was at least given the dignity to die quietly on her own. The buffalo killed Tuesday was continuing to eat and move with the herd (albeit a little more slowly) and was not showing signs of giving up. We weren’t about to give up on her, either. We realize there are challenges when these things happen within a housing area, but we do live on the edge of Yellowstone, where grizzly bears or wolves could have had the opportunity to take her and feed their families. Talking with the game warden, it was clear that it was not easy for him to do this, and we wish he wouldn’t have, but at least we have opened up communication and have agreed to work together to be helpful to our wild neighbors.
On the bright side, Horse Butte is teeming with buffalo calves! Every day we are counting more and more calves. They are such a joy to watch, whether they are bedded down and napping in the flowers, frolicking with the others, trying their new legs and learning how to spar with their wee button horns, or using hilarious maneuvers to convince their moms it’s time to nurse, we just can’t get enough. And the best part is knowing that the government agents cannot bother them here anymore. They simply get to be buffalo. They are moving around Horse Butte, mostly staying where the people live, which is also an amazing thing to see. They enjoy being around people; they know the love that so many Yellowstone Village residents have for them, and they seem to be seeking that company out. They’re hardly spending any time on the public land side of the Butte, but instead prefer to be in the company of humans. There is no better living example of how easy it is to co-exist with wild buffalo. People are even coming from other areas to drive into the Village just to see the buffalo. More people are falling in love with them, and year-round habitat is proving to be beneficial to both buffalo and humans, and we trust that this will help gain them more ground and more advocates as we press on in our work to protect these gentle giants and increase the areas where they roam free.