A Sentimental Old Lot

Photos Copyright Jim Robertson

Bison are a kind, sympathetic, sentimental old lot. Perhaps it’s because, for most of the year, the herd is run by the fairer sex. Like elephants, bison have a matriarchal society; the adult bulls live off on their own in small groups for most of the year, rejoining the main herd during the summer breeding season. Gregarious, caring and benign, bison of both sexes keep a watchful eye on their fellow herd members and often come to the rescue when animals outside their species are in distress. 

Thanks to observations by naturalists, biologists and cognitive ethologists, people are forced to cling to a shorter and shorter list of characteristics that make them “uniquely human.” Altruism and the practice of mourning over the remains of the dead are just two of the human “hallmarks” actually shared by species like elephants and bison. 

I have witnessed bison put themselves in danger to protect not only other bison, but also animals they share their habitat with like elk and pronghorn. I’ve seen them stop to grieve when they happen upon the bones of their dearly departed—and even get pretty gloomy upon finding the dead of another species. 

In the photos below, a bison herd came across the carcass of an elk cow killed by wolves earlier that day and spent the better part of the afternoon in a funk, solemnly paying their respects to the fallen and guarding her from scavengers.


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11 thoughts on “A Sentimental Old Lot

  1. More than once I have seen individual elk risk danger to get other elk to safety. Thank you for this blog. I’m really liking it!

    • Thanks Mary, glad you’re enjoying the blog!
      Yes, I’ve seen elk help their comrades as well. And I watched a coyote put himself in harm’s way when a grizzly bear happened on the den where his mate and pups were hidden. He lured the bear away by getting within a few feet of the bear and dodging back and forth. The bear thought it was a game and layed down on its back and started playing withe coyote. (I tell about it in the coyote chapter of my book).

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