Every autumn, the bison who call Antelope Island home are rounded up so officials can asses the herd.
What is done?:
The bison (or buffalo) are tested for diseases or pregnancy, aesthetic appearance and general health.
Blood tests are taken, and shots are given.
How is this done?:
There are two parts to the process.
- Part 1:
Since the bison live and roam free on the island, they need to be herded into the coral area.
In late October, for about 3-4 days, people on horseback (local horse riders can apply to be
part of this event) bring in as many animals as they can and then a helicopter gets the stragglers.
The roundup is over when all the animals are in the main corrals.
- Part 2:
Once in the large corrals, the herd is cut into smaller groups and guided through gates to
smaller corrals. Then further cut into groups of a few animals and herded through chutes and
down to the waiting veterinarians.
How is the herd "Cut"?:
The first "cutting" from the large area into the first smaller holding pen is done
with beat-up old trucks affectionately dubbed "Bison Bronchos". These trucks put
themselves in harms way and sometimes come away with a few more dents than they had when they
started out. Once there are smaller groups, then it is up to humans inside the pen, with waving
arms and loud shouts, to get the animals into smaller groups and subsequent holding pens until
they finally go into chutes. One last piece of encouragement is a backhoe, about the same width
as a chute to block escape out the back way and encourage forward movement.
What kind of assessments and herd management are done?:
Since the island has a finite amount of space and food resources, there is an optimal number of
animals that can live there in harmony. That number is approximately 500. So, every year,
any "extra" animals are put up for auction (priced by weight). Since the island is a
park, only those animals that are aesthetically the best and will give the best user experience
are kept (i.e. those with less than perfect horns, or those past breeding age might go to auction.)
What about the Auction?:
Anybody can bid, but winners are responsible for transporting their winnings off the island.
There is a viewing day prior to the auction day so prospective buyers can assess the lot and
decide which, if any, animals they would like to bid on.
- This is a pretty wild event to witness and a great way to see bison up close and personal
(outside of Yellowstone!) A new viewing platform has been built so visitors can get up a few
feet and can peer down over the fence to see what is happening.
- There are several officials on hand to answer questions and there is a table with specimens
such as a hide and skulls and a docent there to help educate the public.
Images and graphics by Theresa A. Husarik