July 08, 2022
We went out to dinner with friends last night and were shared a photoshopped version of “Dirk the Bison” from Yellowstone National Park. The video came in response to the four bison goring’s in the park over the last two months. The video depicted a bull bison loping along the prairie with four stylized human figures with arms raised spaced across the hump of his back. The caption read, “Rapidly approaching ‘Ace’ status!”, referring to the number of victories needed by fighter pilots in modern arial warfare. The video was first posted with only two humans, then upgraded to three, and now has four figures being tossed into the air along its hump. While this may have been a long month for the humans, Dirk seems to be thriving. Sadly, I could not get the actual photo to download (but it is on FaceBook).
When I looked online, I found the American bison (Bison bison) is a species of bison native to North America often referred to as buffalo. It is one of two extant species of bison along with the European bison. By 9000 BCE the American bison’s range (or the great bison belt) covered a tract of grassland from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, east to the Atlantic Seaboard as far north as New York, south to Georgia, and some say even further south to Florida. North America has two subspecies of bison. The plains bison (B. bison bison) is smaller in size with a more rounded hump, and the wood bison (B. bison athabascae) is larger with a taller, square hump. The plains bison has been suggested to consist of the northern plains (B. bison montanae) and southern plains (B. bison bison) subspecies, but this is not generally supported. The wood bison is one of the largest wild species of extant bovid in the world, surpassed only by the Asian gaur (Bos gaurus). Among extant land animals in North America, the bison is the heaviest, the longest, and the second tallest (after the moose). It is also known as the most likely to attack tourist.
While bison once roamed in vast herds, the species was nearly extinct from commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century and introduced bovine diseases from domestic cattle. The population was more than 60 million in the late 18th century, but the species was culled to just 541 animals by 1889. Recovery efforts expanded in the mid-20th century, with a resurgence to roughly 31,000 wild bison by 2019. The population was primarily found in a few national parks and reserves, but reintroductions allow the species now freely roam wild in several regions in the US, Canada, and Mexico, and they have been introduced to Yakutia in Russia. The Indigenous tribes of North America have had cultural and spiritual connections to the American bison for millennia and the bison is the national mammal of the US. The National Park Service takes visitor and animal safety seriously and the front page of the Yellowstone website tells you to stay 25 yards (22.8 m) from bison and elk and 100 yards (91.5 m) from bears and wolves because the park’s animals “are WILD and DANGEROUS” (emphasis NPS). Despite the precautions, warnings, and guidelines, bison attacks are on the rise inside the park.
THOUGHTS: While the streak of goring’s may not be common, bison are the biggest threats to humans in Yellowstone Park. Between 1978 and 1992, 56 people were injured and two were killed by bison, and from 2000 to 2015, 25 people were injured by bison. The recent uptick can be chalked up to an increase of bison within the park, an increase in visitors, and the number of visitors willing to get up close and personal with a bison to securing an Instagram-worthy shot. I guess it is no longer enough to loss control of a vehicle or fall off a cliff in quest of the perfect shot. Perhaps this could be an example of evolution. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.