Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam

Today we took a tour of the plains bison handling facility at Elk Island National Park.

I've loved buffalo/bison ever since I was a little kid. When I was very young, I went camping in Yellowstone National Park with my parents and with my aunt. Some of the bison came into our camp. My parents and I took refuge in our car, but my aunt sat on the picnic table and tried to pet them. They were massive and I was pretty sure that they were going to kill her. They didn't, of course, or I would probably be terrified of the noble beast today. Instead, that experience instilled a great respect for bison in me.

When I was in junior high school, my great-uncle was raising bison on his ranch. We would visit from time to time and get to help him with the animals. It was a little bit scary, because they can be so fierce, but I loved it. I loved spending time with this huge and delicious animal.

We live about 20km from two buffalo ranches and driving past them on the way to and from work is always the highlight of my day. So when offered the chance to see where the national park handles their wild bison, I jumped at the chance.

This is a national heritage building. I can't remember what it was called, but this building is the only one in Canada that has serviced two national parks since it was built. They used to use it to hold the hay to feed the bison in Elk Island and also at Jasper National Park. Today it holds used office furniture.

This is one of the pens where they bait the bison into in order to test them for disease. In the winter when the food is harder to find under all that snow, the park rangers will place hay bales in the pens and open the gates. They then bait them into chutes where they can separate them, take blood samples, and quarantine them if necessary.

This is the boardwalk around the bison handling facility. The actual walkway is composed of metal with holes punched in it to let rain/snow through so that it doesn't get so slippery for the workers. The edges of the holes were quite sharp. It was fun to walk on.

Here's a closer look at the metal I was walking on. The smaller holes are poked from the reverse side, so their edges are sharper than the ones on the larger holes.

The boardwalk goes around in a spoked wheel fashion so that the workers can get to all areas of the facility. We walked the entire length of the boardwalk and went inside a veterinary-type office to see where they did medical tests.

This overlooks the many pens where they keep the bison after initial medical tests. The workers nicknamed this area Purgatory because any worker in this area is stuck there by themselves all day with only radio communication to the other workers. It's also a purgatory for the bison, because this is where any sick, injured, or unruly bison are kept in isolation until their condition improves.

Right after this picture was taken, my husband and I were attacked by yellow jackets. Apparently Georgia Tech's mascot hates me.


  1. Looks like you had a lovely time! Sharon and I are aiming to go 24/7 barefoot, soon! xxx

    1. It was really great! If you have any national parks near you, I would really recommend looking into their events and checking one out!

  2. Q. What's the difference between a buffalo and a bison?

    A. You can't wash yer 'ands in a buffalo!