Representatives of Yellowstone National Park have announced plans to kill 1,000 bison this winter, sparking the fury of animal rights advocates.
The initiative is motivated by the fact that park officials are trying to limit the migration of these wild animals into southwestern Montana.
The plan proposes that around 1,000 calves and adult female bison should be killed, in order to lower the reproductive rate of this species, and curb its population growth.
Yellowstone National Park buffalo numbers were estimated at around 4,900 in July 2014, the herd being the oldest and largest in the United States. There were actually 2 clusters identified in the park, one in the Northern Range (totalling 3,400 animals), and the other one in Hayden Valley (1,500).
The number is extremely low, given that in the past there were around 30 to 60 million such herbivores in the United States, as per estimations released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It was extensive commercial hunting and mass slaughter which pushed this species to the brink of extinction by the late 1880’s, despite the fact that buffaloes had probably been the most numerous large land animals ever encountered on Earth.
Just 325 had survived in the United States at one point, but eventually the population made a recovery, and even became one of the top attractions for visitors at Yellowstone National Park.
However, that was short-lived, since ranchers noticed that buffaloes spread brucellosis to their livestock. This dangerous disease results in miscarriages among pregnant cows and other farm animals, and it can even be life-threatening to humans, causing septicemia and endocarditis.
Ever since the 1980’s, approximately 6,300 bison have been eliminated, around 1,900 having been killed during large buffalo hunts authorized by the State of Montana.
Only last year, a total of 737 bison were removed from the park, fewer however than the original plan, which had called for 900 animals to be killed.
Despite these efforts to reduce the number of buffaloes, their population has remained high, which is why officials are trying to switch up their strategy this year.
According to Stephanie Adams, from the National Park Conservation Association, the species has proven resilient, but it’s necessary to limit its population growth because it wouldn’t be possible to support a larger number of animals within the park’s territory.
Officials have tried to relocate some animals in other areas, in order to limit the number of buffaloes that have to be slaughtered.
Last year, there was even a proposal issued by Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who suggested that bison might be allowed to inhabit regions west of Yellowstone, provided that the total number of these herbivores is reduced to under 3,500.
However, such initiatives have benefited from little support. That was due to widespread fears among farmers, that bringing bison in territories where their cattle were grazing would increase exposure to brucellosis, and also result in competition over feeding grounds.
On the other hand, animal rights organizations have protested against the buffaloes’ extensive killing, and this viewpoint is also shared by some Native American tribes in the area.
While the Nez Perce in Idaho have been favorable to this culling, becoming actively involved in the hunting and slaughtering process, members of the Blackfoot tribe have condemned these actions, calling them shameful.
The meeting between representatives from Yellowstone National Park and other officials from state and federal agencies is scheduled to take place today. Their mutual decision might seal the fate of 1,000 animals in the following months.
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