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Where buffalo roam

Published: Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:47 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:31 p.m. CDT

Approximately 70 bison now roam the 700-acre native prairie enclosure at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge south of Prairie City. Refuge officials report that no new calves have been born in the bison herd yet this spring, but they expect to have some new babies within the next month or so.

A total of 13 bison were culled from the herd last November and sent to their new home at the Prairie Island Indian Community in southeast Minnesota.

Christy Smith, Neal Smith NWR manager, said the number of bison that can be sustained on the bison enclosure is limited. The refuge works closely with Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Lee Jones and FWS Chief of Wildlife Health, Tom Roffe during the culling of the herd to ensure that the herd does not lose genetic variability when animals are removed.

The refuge’s newsletter reported that this year’s bison roundup was a successful one. No animal was injured during the roundup, and all appeared to be in good physical health.

Once all the animals were secured in the large metal holding pens, each animal was sent through a scale where it was scanned for a microchip. Body condition was recorded and a check that age and sex information appeared correct. Calves and other bison without a microchip went to the chute for genetic samples. Metal ear tags also were inserted in bison who didn’t have one.

In addition, a researcher was on hand to get hair samples, to study how seeds are transported by bison through attachment to their hair and which plant species are dispersed in this way.

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