Maneuvering several hundred pounds of young bison through a series of metal holding chutes to measure and weigh them is no easy matter. But it’s a process, says biologist Dan Roddy, that the park’s personnel are well experienced in. Even when it comes to the most delicate procedure.
“If they’re animals that haven’t been brought in before we’re pulling tail hairs and drawing blood for genetics.”
“How’s that go?” I ask.
Roddy chuckles. “Yeah, they jump a little bit when you pull the tail hairs…but for the most part they’re more concerned about what’s going on at their head.”
At each bison’s head park personnel are placing a metal ear tag along with a computer chip behind the ear. Bison are also identified by age and sex at this point along with having their blood drawn and their health assessed.
Roddy notes that the primary goal is to accomplish each procedure as quickly as possible and with as little stress as possible – for both the animals and those personnel involved.
Once all the bison have been processed 75 yearlings are culled from the herd for shipment to ranches in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. Those bison are transported to their destination by The Nature Conservancy, says Wind Cave Resource Management Chief Greg Schroeder.
“The Nature Conservancy has signed an agreement with us to be a conservation partner. And they have 5 different ranches right now that have Wind Cave only bison on them. So they’re helping to conserve the genetic lineage of these Wind Cave bison.”
That partnership with The Nature Conservancy is necessary, explains Schroeder, since Wind Cave National Park can only support about 500 bison…a number the current herd has already reached.
Although the Nature Conservancy has partnered with the park to facilitate this preservation of the Wind Cave bison’s genetic lineage, Greg Schroeder says he’d also like to partner with Native American tribes.
“We are looking for tribes that would be interested in joining the same kind of partnership with us," explains Schroeder, "and having Wind Cave conservation herds on their tribal grounds.”
Wind Cave National Park holds bison processing operations like this whenever its herd reaches the 500 mark.