Wild horses flourish in Chernobyl 35 years after explosion

Wild horses flourish in Chernobyl 35 years after explosion (msn.com)

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Down an overgrown country road, three startled wild horses with rugged coats and rigid manes dart into the flourishing overgrowth of their unlikely nature reserve: the Chernobyl exclusion zone.a brown horse standing next to a forest: Przewalski's horses wander near a forest road in the Chernobyl zone© Sergei SUPINSKY Przewalski’s horses wander near a forest road in the Chernobyl zone

Thirty-five years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster — an anniversary commemorated in the ex-Soviet country on Monday — surging flora and fauna have taken over deserted tower blocks, shops and official buildings topped with communist icons.a large brown cow standing on top of a grass covered field: A potential candidate species for introduction to the Chernobyl area is the European bison© Jean Christophe VERHAEGEN A potential candidate species for introduction to the Chernobyl area is the European bison

Ukrainian authorities say the area maybe not be fit for humans for 24,000 years, but for now this breed of wild horse has thrived.

“It’s really a symbol of the reserve and even the exclusion zone in general,” said Denys Vyshnevsky, head of the scientific department of the Chernobyl nature reserve created in the area five years ago.a brown horse standing next to a forest: Chernobyl has also become a haven for elks, and other fauna including wolves© GENYA SAVILOV Chernobyl has also become a haven for elks, and other fauna including wolves

The explosion in the fourth reactor at the nuclear power plant in April, 26, 1986 left swathes of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus badly contaminated and led to the creation of a no man’s land within a 30-kilometre (19-mile) radius of the station.

Dozens of villages and towns were evacuated, turning the area into a giant reserve unprecedented in Europe by its size.

More than three decades after the incident there has been an influx of visitors to the area, spurring officials to seek official status — and protection — from UNESCO.

– A ‘unique’ chance to save biodiversity –

Since the disaster, the area has become a haven for elk, wolves — and the stocky endangered breed of wild horse native to Asia, Przewalski’s horse.

The breed, named after Russian scientist Nikolai Przewalski who discovered it in the Asia expansive Gobi desert, became all but extinct by the middle of the 20th century, partially due to overhunting.a herd of cows walking down a dirt road: Przewalski's horses were at one time extinct in the wild but are now thriving in Chernobyl© Sergei SUPINSKY Przewalski’s horses were at one time extinct in the wild but are now thriving in Chernobyl

It was reintroduced by scientists to areas of Mongolia, China and Russia as part of preservation efforts.a herd of cattle grazing on a lush green field: Thirty-five years after the world's worst nuclear disaster surging flora and fauna have taken over deserted tower blocks© Aleksndr Sirota Thirty-five years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster surging flora and fauna have taken over deserted tower blocks

In a different program, 30 of the horses were released into the Chernobyl zone in 1998, replacing an extinct horse native to the region, the Tarpan.

The experiment in Ukraine was soon halted but the horses remained and now number around 150 in parts of the exclusion zone, with around another 60 over the border in Belarus.a large brown elephant walking through a forest: Down an overgrown country road, three startled wild horses with rugged coats and rigid manes dart into the flourishing overgrowth of their unlikely nature reserve: the Chernobyl exclusion zone.© Andriy PERUN Down an overgrown country road, three startled wild horses with rugged coats and rigid manes dart into the flourishing overgrowth of their unlikely nature reserve: the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

“Paradoxically, this is a unique opportunity to preserve biodiversity,” Vyshnevsky said.

Under the right conditions, the Ukrainian herd could eventually increase to 300 or even 500 animals, said Sergiy Zhyla, Senior Researcher, Chernobyl Biosphere Reserve.

Researchers at the Prague zoo participating in the conservation efforts now say the global population of Przewalski’s horses has grown to some 2,700.Play VideoWild horses flourish in Chernobyl 35 years after explosionClick to expand

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Following the success in Chernobyl, there is discussion over introducing other endangered species to Ukraine’s zone.

Vyshnevsky sees one potential candidate in the European bison — which already roams over the border in Belarus — and discussions are currently underway with the World Wildlife Fund, a global environmental NGO.

“We’ll be able to recreate the landscape that was here before humans began intensely exploiting the region,” he said.

Wild horses flourish in Chernobyl 35 years after explosion (msn.com)


‘Bad’ Bison Bills In Montana Set Back Conservation of America’s Official National Mammal


MARCH 29, 2021


by Jim BaileySUPPORT USGET NEWSLETTERBailey writes: “Currently, there are no public-trust wild bison, year-round, in Montana. Two bills in the Montana legislature would prevent any restoration of the species, as wildlife, in the state. While touting ‘protect public lands’ as a smokescreen, Montana lawmakers are betraying their public trust responsibilities to manage a resource for all people. They are bulldozing a whole history of bison conservation efforts into the refuse pile of the ‘once best place.'”
Opinion guest essay by Jim Bailey
Bison are the official land mammal of the United States. They are on the flag of the US Interior Department, they appear on the insignia of the National Park Service, they were featured on one side of the buffalo nickel and, in Montana, the skull of a bison, as portrayed by famous Western artist Charles M. Russell, was showcased on the Montana collectible 25-cent piece.
Bison were once the most abundant large land mammal in the world. Their great numbers, their basis for a renowned Native American horse culture on the Great Plains, and their demise are legendary parts of American and Montana histories. But, two bills moving through the Montana legislature and headed for the desk of Governor Greg Gianforte would undo years of attempts to securely recover this iconic species, widely loved by the American people, as a wildlife species.
The vast majority of plains bison are being domesticated in private herds for commercial purposes. Many tribes have bison herds, managed to fulfill important needs of Native Americans. American conservation herds in parks and refuges are mostly small, on small ranges, and most are managed with domesticating interventions, much like livestock. But, there are no public-trust, wild bison year-round in Montana. (Yellowstone bison are only seasonal visitors to Montana from most of the park encompassed by Wyoming.)
As wildlife, bison are a natural resource jointly and cooperatively managed by state and federal legislatures and administrations having trust obligations to benefit all the people, including future generations.
A long history of federal and state legislation, policy and planning, has been established to guide and constrain bison management – to benefit and protect the people. These actions, listed below, have included decisions under federal and state laws developed under agencies representing over a million Montanans and over 300 million American citizens who own Montana wildlife.
House Bill 302 would permit any county commission in Montana to veto any publicly analyzed and examined proposal for local bison restoration, even on federal land. House Bill 318, in narrowly redefining “wild bison” in Montana law, would disqualify all possible plains bison for use in restoring any population of public-trust, wild bison in the state.
Both of those bills 302 and 318 would ignore, duplicate, violate or render meaningless the following Montana history regarding bison restoration:Mandates in Article IX of the state Constitution to care for natural resources and objects of historic, cultural and recreational value; and to preserve the opportunity to harvest wild game.
Legislative guidelines in MCA 87-1-216, developed in response to the constitutional mandate, providing requirements for restoring public, wild bison in Montana.
The Montana Environmental Policy Act, MCA 75-1-103, for making difficult decisions. Abundant public effort under MEPA could simply be vetoed and wasted, with little county analysis or explanation.
Twelve years, (so far) of effort and expense by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to develop a statewide plan for restoring at least one herd of public, wild bison in the state.
Three polls demonstrating that 70 percent of Montana voters support bison restoration on the Charles M. Russell Refuge.
For restoration of public-trust—getting wild bison established on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge—house bills 302 and 318 would ignore, preclude or render meaningless the following federal mandates, plans and policies (again, set in bold for emphasis)The mission statement of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The mission statement of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s cherished National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.
The U. S. Department of Interior’s recent Bison Conservation Initiative.
The National Environmental Policy Act, for use in decision-making.
The ability of the Russell Refuge to achieve its overall goal of restoring natural ecosystems on the Refuge, as stated in the Refuge Plan.
House Bill 302 would duplicate existing requirements for notifying rural counties and citizens of the details in any plan for restoring wild, public bison in Montana.
Any proposal for bison restoration must be developed under either or both the Montana and National Environmental Polcts and under MCA 87-1-216. These laws provide all citizens with detailed project analyses and abundant opportunities to comment. Rural counties are not being discriminated against in this public outreach.“Domestication is the most serious threat to the future of bison as a wild species,” Bailey writes. “The vast majority of North American plains bison exist in privately-owned commercial herds where they are being domesticated by replacing natural selection with human-determined selection, augmented by genetic effects of small population sizes.”For example, the current MEPA process to develop a state plan for restoring at least one herd of public, wild bison has been ongoing for 12 years, with abundant public outreach and input, including public hearings around the state. A preliminary review  by Adams and Dood, 2011) and the current, interim “programmatic” plan and impact statement include abundant information on diverse issues related to bison restoration. This information, developed by professional biologists and others, has been widely available.
Likewise, under the NEPA process, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge Conservation Plan was developed with public outreach and input. Public hearings were held in 6 Montana towns and cities.
House Bill 302 would allow a local government, representing perhaps only 1000-5000 Montanans, to preclude the needs and privileges of the majority of citizens of the state and the nation, as these needs and desires are provided for under existing statutes.
In contrast to the small numbers of citizens in many rural counties, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks received over 21,000 public comments in response to the 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for bison conservation and management. Also, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service received over 23,000 public comments during scoping and over 21,000 Public comments on the draft conservation plan for the CMR Refuge.
Again, three polls of citizens have shown that about 70 percent of Montana voters support restoration of public-trust, wild bison on the CMR Refuge.
House Bill 302 would duplicate existing legal requirements for protecting private property, while restricting private and public property rights for many citizens. 
Private landowners cannot be discriminated against with restoration of wild bison.  Existing law (MCA 87-1-216) does not permit Fish, Wildlife & Parks to allow wild bison on any property where the landowner does not accept them. Further, this law requires Fish, Wildlife & Parks to compensate for any damage caused by wandering bison. Among many other requirements, it minimizes possible transfer of disease from wild bison to livestock and requires a pre-restoration public hearing in any affected county.
In contrast, HB 302 could prevent any landowner who would accept wild bison from enjoying that option, limiting private property rights. Moreover, HB 302 could prevent the majority of Americans and of Montanans from restoring a native species, with its important ecological functions, on their public property.
House Bill 302 would be an imprudent precedent in negating the role of the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission to determine policy for conserving and managing state wildlife.
House Bill 318 would disqualify all possible plains bison for any transplant to restore public, wild bison in Montana. 
Aside from redefining “wild bison”, HB318 amends MCA 15-24-921 to clearly exempt tribal bison from the per capita livestock fee. Redefining wild bison is not necessary for this purpose.
Under HB 318, a wild bison: has not been reduced to captivity; has never been owned by a person; has never been taxed as livestock; nor is the offspring of a bison once taxed as livestock. These proposed redefinitions of “wild bison” have no basis in biology. There is no reason why the past ownership of a bison, or its parents, should disqualify and animal from initiating a new, wild herd.
In particular, HB 318 at least implies that a wild bison is one that has never been in captivity. Since the vast majority of plains bison, including conservation herds in public ownership, are fenced-in, mostly small herds on small ranges, and the very few unfenced herds would have to be captured for months or years of quarantine or inspection and for transportation, HB 318 would disqualify all possible plains bison for use in restoring a public wild herd in Montana. No bison, anywhere, would clearly qualify to be used in restoring bison as wildlife in Montana.
House bills 302 and 318 would expedite gradual disorganization and domestication of the wild bison genome.The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has concluded that large herds of bison subject to the full range of natural limiting factors must be of pre-eminent importance to the long-term conservation, global security and continued evolution of bison as wildlife. The Alternative is gradual domestication of the species (Gates et al. 2010).
As large, highly mobile grazing mammals, restoration of bison as wildlife has been difficult. In the USA, most conservation herds of bison are small, genetically inadequate, limited to small ranges, and managed much like livestock. Gradual deterioration of the wild bison genome is underway in a domesticating process including loss of genetic diversity.
It is a national goal of the US Department of Interior’s Bison Conservation Initiative to forestall this deterioration of wild bison. This will require restoring at least one large herd on a large, diverse landscape. Realistically, this will require a large area of all or mostly public land where conflicts with private interests, especially livestock production, can be minimized. For plains bison, the best option, anywhere, for such restoration of wild bison exists on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. The CMR Refuge is the largest federal refuge within the historic range of plains bison.
Seven rural counties include some of the CMR Refuge. HB 302 would allow one county commission, representing a few thousand citizens, to prevent achievement of global and national goals for conserving bison as a wild species.Observes Bailey, “The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Montana is the largest refuge within the historic range of plains bison. But the refuge has no bison and lacks the diverse ecological effects of this keystone species. Despite mandates in federal law and policy, the Refuge Management Plan cedes the right to restore, or not restore, wild bison to the state of Montana.”House bills 302 and 318 would prevent diversification and enhancement of rural economies with opportunities from bison-based hunting and tourism.
Thirty-three contiguous counties in eastern and north-central Montana have been losing population for many decades. Most lack a critical population necessary to support a comprehensive county government, adequate health care, emergency services, quality education, communication facilities and other infrastructure. Poverty levels are the highest in the state. Livestock production has remained the primary economic foundation for these counties, and this industry has opposed any projects that might compete with cattle production.
Under the requirements of MCA 87-1-216, a large herd of public-trust, wild bison could be restored with minimal or no negative impacts on the livestock industry, especially if bison are reestablished on the CMR National Wildlife Refuge.
Bison restoration has potential to augment and diversify local economies by enhancing tourism and with monies spent during months-long hunting seasons for lodging, meals, supplies and outfitting services (Sage, 2017). Either HB 302 or HB 318 would prevent bison restoration in these counties, perpetuating an economic strategy that has failed for decades.
House bills 302 and 318 would justify and encourage independent federal action to restore wild bison on the CMR Refuge.The Fish and Wildlife Service and its refuge system are mandated to collaborate and cooperate with the states in the management of wildlife on federal lands. However, the states’ trust responsibilities for wildlife are subordinate to the federal government’s statutory and trust obligations over federal lands and their integral resources (Nie et al. 2017). Federal agencies have often abdicated this responsibility and authority to the states. HB 302 could be an ultimate expression of Montana’s obstinacy and lack of cooperation for restoring bison, a keystone species, on the CMR Refuge. 
This may lead the Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its legal mandates by exercising its ultimate authority and proceeding with bison restoration without state approval.

Bison conservation and the future of bison as wildlife are not merely a local or state issue. The state of Montana, especially the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, have a unique and important role to play in preserving a future for public-trust, wild bison. Under HBs 302 and 318, Montana will fail to fulfill an irreplaceable opportunity to conserve a wild resource that is a unique component of global biodiversity.

In conclusion, any proposal for a Montana bison restoration project must be developed by professionals and abundantly vetted under MEPA and MCA 87-1-216. HB 302 adds nothing to this comprehensive process. However, a county veto of a professionally developed and vetted bison restoration plan could be based upon a narrow sample of public goals, by commissioners having no staff to evaluate complex biological issues. 
Either house bills 302 or HB 318 would almost certainly prevent any restoration of public-trust wild bison in Montana, preempting economic opportunities in many rural counties, ignoring the desires and statutory privileges of most citizens of the state and nation, and disregarding a host of state and federal legal mandates and policies. 
Bison conservation and the future of bison as wildlife are not merely a local or state issue. The state of Montana, especially the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, have a unique and important role to play in preserving a future for public-trust, wild bison. Under HBs 302 and 318, Montana will fail to fulfill an irreplaceable opportunity to conserve a wild resource that is a unique component of global biodiversity.
In 1910, William Hornaday of the Smithsonian Institution proposed a preserve for wild bison on the south side of the Missouri River in Montana. In Congress, he was thwarted by the Montana Woolgrowers Association. Now, 111 years later, we still have no herd of public, wild bison in the state. Citizens of Montana and the nation must be heard. If Montana’s obstinacy toward bison restoration offends you, contact Governor Greg Gianforte at mt.gov, phone 406-444-3111, or write him at PO Box 200801, Helena, MT 59620-0801. 
Silence is complicity.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information, visit the Montana Wild Bison Restoration Coalition and the Buffalo Field Campaign.  Mountain Journal welcomes a rebuttal to Bailey’s essay provided it is based upon science and established fact.

Reckless Yellowstone tourists cause bison stampede

David StregelikeOctober 21, 2020 12:40 pm

After leaving Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Lisa Stewart stopped when she saw a bunch of people by the river, thinking it might be a wolf sighting.

Instead, it was several tourists acting recklessly as they approached a herd of bison and caused a stampede.

Stewart told USA Today/For The Win Outdoors that for up to 10 minutes she witnessed bison grunting and stomping the ground and slowly moving down the hill.

“The people saw them and started walking closer and closer toward the bison,” Stewart explained. “They [the bison] kept getting more agitated by the minute. They walked farther down. Out of my sight, but I could still hear them grunting and blowing.

“While I had my iPhone up taking a picture, I heard the rumble of the stampede and immediately moved my camera from still photos to video and captured the video you see.https://www.youtube.com/embed/z3fBnVvUfls?feature=oembed&wmode=transparent

“You only see about four-to-six people on the video, but there were more in the same spot the bison come running from,” Stewart said. “The fishermen grabbed their stuff and ran, and then you see the bison running, and I felt relief the people didn’t get trampled.

“Then all the sudden you see the bison appear between the fishermen and tourists, then they turn and run toward the tourists. I was scared for a second, but the second wave of stampeding bison turned again and ran across the river to join the herd on the other side.”

Also on FTW Outdoors: Watch as a bear gets touchy-feely with a shocked jogger

Bystanders yelled at the tourists to get away from the bison and made it known how stupid they were for even being down there, much less walking toward them, Stewart told For The Win Outdoors.

Yellowstone warns visitors that animals in the park are wild and unpredictable, no matter how calm they appear to be. The park says the safest view of wildlife is from the inside of a car. It recommends remaining 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from all other animals, such as bison and elk. Clearly that wasn’t the case here.

“It was amazing that they didn’t heed the warning of grunting, snorting and stomping feet!” Stewart said. “I stopped filming cause I really thought that someone out of view had to have been hurt and was going to help if needed.

“I was actually shaking a tad, for I really thought the bison were going to run through those people.”

Afterward, the tourists made their way back to their vehicles, but they heard an earful from bystanders.

“I could feel the earth rumbling under my feet when it was happening,” Stewart told For The Win Outdoors. “It was one of those moments your stomach turns over at the split moment you think disaster is about to happen.

“Thank goodness nobody was hurt, and I hope they all learned a lesson. It reaffirmed the awesome power of such beautiful creatures in my eyes.”

Photo courtesy of ViralHog.

Yellowstone Tourist Trips And Falls When Charging Bison Takes After Her

Published on July 19, 2020July 19, 2020  in News/wildlife

***For All Things Wyoming, Sign-Up For Our Daily Newsletter***https://www.youtube.com/embed/QGM0kcOCbkw?feature=oembed

She wasn’t a complete idiot.

It was probably for the best that a woman who got way too close to a herd of bison tripped when one chased after her.

That’s because the woman reportedly said that she knew the best thing to do in that situation was to play-dead.

The video, at least in this instance, appeared to show that was a good strategy. The charging bison stopped, investigated the scene, and eventually left her alone.

The individual who shot the video said the incident occurred at Nez Perce Creek and and the woman was “a Montana local so she knew to play dead in that situation.”

Of course the best way to avoid that situation is not to get too close to the bison in the first place.

Reports are that the woman was not injured. 

No word on the condition of the man, appropriately dressed in green shorts and sandals, who tried to pick up a tree branch (and failed) in an effort to look like he could actually do something against a 2,000 pound bison.

A 72-year-old woman was gored by a bison at Yellowstone National Park when she tried to take a picture


Dave Alsup and Hollie Silverman, CNN • Updated 30th June 2020FacebookTwitterEmail

A woman was gored by a bison as she tried to take a picture of it in Yellowstone National Park.

(CNN) — A 72-year-old California woman was gored by a bison in Yellowstone National Park, a news release from the park said.The woman approached the bison to take a picture and got within 10 feet of it multiple times before it gored her on June 25, according to the release.She sustained multiple goring wounds and was treated by rangers before being flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center for further treatment.The news release said the woman approached the bison several times near her campsite at Bridge Bay Campground in northwest Wyoming before the bison charged.Related contentA woman suffers burns after illegally entering Yellowstone National Park, park officials say“The series of events that led to the goring suggest the bison was threatened by being repeatedly approached to within 10 feet,” Yellowstone’s senior bison biologist Chris Geremia said in the release.”Bison are wild animals that respond to threats by displaying aggressive behaviors like pawing the ground, snorting, bobbing their head, bellowing, and raising their tail. If that doesn’t make the threat (in this instance it was a person) move away, a threatened bison may charge,” Geremia added. “To be safe around bison, stay at least 25 yards away, move away if they approach, and run away or find cover if they charge.”The attack serves as a reminder that “wildlife in Yellowstone National Park are wild,” the release said.Park visitors must stay 25 yards away from all large animals in the park including bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes, the release said. If people encounter bears and wolves they should stay 100 yards away.Another woman was also gored at the park in late May only days after the park reopened to visitors following a closure for coronavirus.

These baby animals were born during the coronavirus pandemic

text and video by Diana Diroy, CNN • Published 11th May 2020
Taking care of zoo animals during coronavirus
(CNN) — What does a porqupette in Florida, a baby sea turtle in the Maldives and a bald eaglet from Catalina Island have in common?
These animals were all born during a pandemic.
Many zoos and animal parks around the world may be closed to visitors, but that hasn’t stopped the circle of life from taking place within them.
Amid the closures, caretakers — zoo staff and veterinarians — are showing up for the animals and sharing their stories online.
San Diego Zoo Global launched the #WereHereTogether campaign, which virtually connects visitors to their favorite animals. Disney’s been sharing updates of creatures at the Animal Kingdom through #DisneyMagicMoments. And explore.org, a multi-media organization, live streams animals from all over the world, from a kitten rescue sanctuary to elephants in the African bush.

New additions to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Credit: The Walt Disney Company
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park located in Orlando, Florida, recently welcomed two new additions to the family.
On an early Saturday morning, in late March, six days after Walt Disney World Resort closed, Asha, a Hartmann Mountain Zebra Foal came into the world.
Walt Disney cast members chose the zebra’s name; Asha means “hope” in Sanskrit and “life” in Swahili.
She is the third zebra born at Walt Disney World this year.

Credit: The Walt Disney Company
Born on February 25, Shelly, a prehensile-tailed porcupine, now weighs two pounds. Prehensile-tailed porcupines are born with their quills underneath their fine red fur. A few hours after birth, their quills harden and they begin to resemble porcupines as we know them.
You can keep up with Shelly and Asha’s stories through the Disney Parks Blog. Guests can also ask questions, such as, “What conservation programs happen at Disney World? ” on Dr. Mark Penning’s Instagram @DrMarkAtDisney. The Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Penning posts pictures of the animals regularly and welcomes comments and queries.
Germany’s first set of twin giant panda cubs take their first steps outside and make their public debut in Zoo Berlin.

Turtles and chicks

A baby sea turtle hatched at Emerald Madives Resort and Spa on February 26.

A baby sea turtle hatched at Emerald Madives Resort and Spa on February 26.
Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa
On February 26, a staff member at Emerald Maldives Resort and Spa found eggs under a tree next to one of the beach villas. Once the eggs hatched, the resident marine biologist helped guide the sea turtles to the ocean with a flashlight.
In New York City, over at the Bronx Zoo, two blue penguin chicks hatched on February 20. They are part of a blue penguin colony, which now consists of 16 birds.

A blue penguin chick hatched on February 20 at the Bronx Zoo.

A blue penguin chick hatched on February 20 at the Bronx Zoo.
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
Zoo keepers are waiting for the chicks’ feathers to come in fully, at which time they’ll submit a feather sample, which will determine their genders. They’ll name the little chicks once they have this information.
Guests can keep up with the development of the blue penguin chicks through Bronx Zoo’s social media channels.

An open park

Credit: Custer State Park
According to Mark Hendrix, Custer State Park’s Resource Program Manager, Custer State Park in South Dakota is expecting to 475 bison calves this year. The park, which is 71,000 acres, is open to guests who want to get outdoors and see the baby calves.
Hendrix advises guests to keep at least 100 yards between themselves and the protective moms.
“We’ve always been really telling people to stay back,” Hendrix said. “And obviously with social distancing, groups of people need to stay away from each other. Limit your interactions with other guests that are trying to view the bison.”

The Wolf at Trout Creek


The bison are in rut at Alum Creek.

Two or three hundred of the shaggy beasts are crowded in the little valley. The bulls have left their normal bachelor groups and joined the big herds of cows and calves to parry each other for  preferred mates. They are antsy, kicking up dust devils that swirl around them like brown mist.

I walk slowly up the creek to a group of five dark bison, three females and two males. One of the bulls looks ancient. His eyes are crusty, one of his black horns broken. He is large, but unsteady on his legs, which look too thin to support his bulk. He sucks breaths deeply and raggedly. His lower lip is extended and quivering as he approaches one of the young cows. He shakes his head, his tongue flicks repeatedly at the air, as if tasting the estrus.

As the old patriarch struggles to mount the cinnamon-colored female, a young bull rushes over, butts him in the side, nearly knocking him down. The young bull kicks at the ground, snorts aggressively. The old bull stands his ground for a moment, drool stringing from his mouth. Then finally he turns away from what will almost certainly be his last summer. He staggers downstream towards me, his head hung low, flies gathering at his eyes.

I am less than a mile from Yellowstone’s main road through the Hayden Valley, an artery thickly clogged with vans, mobile homes and the leather-and-chrome swarms of weekend motorcycle ganglets. There is no one else here in the pathway of the great herds. Even the metallic drone of the machines has faded so that I can hear the heavy breath of the bison in their annual ceremony of sexual potency.

Even bison, the very icon of the park, aren’t safe here in their last sanctuary. The shaggy bovines are victims of rancher panic and a gutless government. Like cattle and elk, bison can carry an infectious bacterium that leads to a disease called brucellosis which can, rarely, cause cows to abort fetuses. There’s no evidence that Yellowstone bison have transmitted the disease to Montana cattle, grazing cheaply on public lands near the park. But as a preventive strike, all bison that wander outside the boundaries of the park in search of forage during the deep snows of winter are confined in bison concentration camps, tested  and either killed on site or shipped to slaughter-houses.

Not to worry. Ted Turner is coming to the rescue.  I read in the morning paper that Turner is offering to liberate the bison quarantined at Corwin Springs, ship them to his 113,000 acre Flying D Ranch south of Bozeman, fatten them on his vast rangeland grasses and serve them up for $18 a plate at his restaurants.

Suddenly, the old bull turns my direction, angry and frustrated. He snorts, paws at hard dirt and feigns a charge.

I retreat and stumble south across the slope of stubborn sagebrush, over a rounded ridge and down into the Trout Creek valley, leaving the bison to settle their mating preferences in peace.

I’m leaking a little blood. The day before I took a nasty plunge down the mossy face of an andesite cliff at a beautiful waterfall in the Absaroka Mountains, ripping the nail off my big toe.

Each time my foot snags a rock an electric jolt stabs up my left leg. I stop at a at the crest of the ridge, find a spot clear of bison pies, and sit down. I ease off my boot and bloody sock, untwist the cap from a metal flask of icy water and pour it over my swollen toe, already turning an ugly black.

Even in late summer, the valley of Trout Creek is lush and green with tall grasses in striking contrast to the sere landscape of the ridges and the broad plain of the Hayden Valley. The creek itself is an object lesson in meander, circling itself like a loosely coiled rope on its reluctant path to the Yellowstone River. Once acclaimed for its cutthroat trout, the creek has been invaded by brookies, rainbows and brown trout—though these genetic intrusions are viewed with indifference by the great blue heron that is posing statuesquely in the reeds, waiting to strike.

Fifty years ago, Trout Creek was an entirely different kind of place. This valley was a dump, literally, and as such it was then thick with grizzly bears. The bears would assemble in the early evening, after the dump trucks had unloaded the day’s refuse from the migration of tourists to Fishing Bridge and Canyon and Tower Junction. Dozens of grizzlies would paw through the mounds of debris, becoming conditioned to the accidental kindness of an untrustworthy species.

The bears became concentrated at the dump sites and dependent on the food. This all came to a tragic end in 1968 when the Park Service decided to abruptly close the Trout Creek dump, despite warnings from bear biologists, Frank and John Craighead. Denied the easy pickings at the trash head that generations of bears had become habituated to, the Craigheads predicted that the grizzlies would begin wandering into campgrounds and developed sites in search of food. Such entanglements, the Craigheads warned, would prove fatal, mostly to the bears.

And so it came to pass. The dump-closure policy inaugurated a heinous decade of bear slaughter by the very agency charged with protecting the bruins. From 1968 to 1973, 190 grizzly bears in Yellowstone were killed by the Park Service, roughly a third of the known population. That’s the official tally. The real number may have been twice that amount, since the Park Service destroyed most of the bear incident reports from that era. Many bears died from tranquilizer overdoses and dozens of others were air-dropped outside the park boundaries only to be killed by state game officials.

The situation for the great bear has scarcely improved over the last forty years. There are more insidious ways to kill, mostly driven by the government’s continued lack of tolerance for the bear’s expansive nature. New park developments have fragmented its range, while cars, trashy campers, gun-totting tourists and back-country poachers rack up a grim toll. And now the climate itself is conspiring against the grizzly by inexorably burning out one of the bear’s main sources of seasonal protein, the whitebark pine.

Yellowstone is a closed system, a giant island. Genetic diversity is a real concern for Yellowstone’s isolated population of bears. So is the possibility of new diseases in a changing climate. The death rate of Yellowstone grizzlies has been climbing the last few years. The future is bleak. So, naturally, as one of its opening shots, the Trump and his wrecking crew move to delist the Yellowstone population from the Endangered Species Act, stripping the bear of its last legal leverage against the forces of extinction.

During the very week I was hobbling around Yellowstone one of Montana’s most famous grizzlies was found by a rancher, shot and killed on the Rocky Mountain Front near the small town of Augusta. He was a giant, non-confrontational bear who weighed more than 800 pounds and stood more than seven-and-a-half feet tall. He was beloved by grizzly watchers, who called him Maximus.  His anonymous killer left his corpse to rot in a field of alfalfa in the August sun. The government exhibited only its routine apathy at this illegal and senseless slaying. Let us pray that the great bear’s DNA is widely disseminated across the Northern Rockies and that his killer meets with an even more painful and pitiless end.

I catch a flash of white circling above me. Osprey? Swainson’s hawk? I dig into my pack and extract my binoculars and am quickly distracted by a weird motion on the ridgeline across the valley. I glass the slope. Four legs are pawing frantically at the sky. It is a wolf, rolling vigorously on its back, coating its pelt in dirt, urine or shit. Something foul to us and irresistible to wild canids.

The wolf rolls over and shakes. Dust flies from his fur. He tilts his head, then rubs his neck and shoulders onto the ground. He shakes again, sits and scans the valley.

His coat is largely gray, but his chest is black streaked by a thin necklace of white fur. He presents the classic lean profile of the timber wolf. Perhaps he is a Yellowstone native. He was certainly born in the park. His neck is shackled by the tell-tale telemetry collar, a reminder that the wolves of Yellowstone are under constant surveillance by the federal wolf cops. He is a kind of cyber-wolf, on permanent parole, deprived of an essential element of wildness. The feds are charting nearly every step he takes. One false move, and he could, in the antiseptic language of the bureaucracy, be “removed,” as in erased, as in terminated.

This wolf is two, maybe three years old. His coat is thick, dark and shiny. There is no sign of the corrosive mange that is ravaging many of the Yellowstone packs, a disease, like distemper and the lethal parvo virus, vectoring into the park from domestic dogs.

It has been more than 20 years since thirty-one gray wolves were reintroduced into the park, under the Clinton administration’s camera-ready program. With great fanfare, Bruce Babbitt hand-delivered the Canadian timber wolves to their holding pens inside the high caldera. Of course, it was an open secret — vigorously denied by the Interior Department — that wolves had already returned to Yellowstone on their own—if, that is, they’d ever really vanished from the park despite the government’s ruthless eradication campaign that persisted for nearly a century.

These new wolves came with a fatal bureaucratic catch.  Under Babbitt’s elastic interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, the wolves of Yellowstone were magically decreed to be a “non-essential, experimental population.”  This sinister phrase means that the Yellowstone wolves were not to enjoy the full protections afforded to endangered species and could be harassed, drugged, transported or killed at the whim of federal wildlife bureaucrats. Deviously, this sanguinary rule was applied to all wolves in Yellowstone, even the natives.

The Yellowstone packs, both reintroduced and native, are doing well, but not well enough considering the lethal threats arrayed against them, even inside the supposedly sacrosanct perimeter of the park.

This young wolf might well be a member of the Canyon pack, a gregarious gang of four wolves frequently sighted at Mammoth Hot Springs on Yellowstone’s northern fringe, where they dine liberally on the elk that hang around the Inn, cabins and Park Headquarters. This close-up view of predation-in-action agitated the tourists and when the tourists are upset, the Park Service responds with a vengeance. The federal wolf cops were dispatched to deal with the happy marauders. When the wolves began stalking the elk, Park Service biologists lobbed cracker grenade shells at them and shot at the wolves with rubber bullets.  Finally, the small pack left Mammoth for less hostile terrain, showing up this summer in the Hayden Valley, throbbing with elk and bison.

But the non-lethal warfare waged on the Canyon pack wolves came with a bloody price. The wolves lost their litter of pups, a troubling trend in Yellowstone these days. Pup mortality in Yellowstone is on the rise. Last year, on the northern range of the Park only eight pups survived. Several packs, including the Canyon and Leopold packs, produced no pups. Over the last few years, the wolf population inside the Park has dropped by 30 per cent. Even so, the Bush administration decided to strip the wolf of its meager protections under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho, opening the door for wolf hunting seasons in both states. Then Judge Donald Molloy, a no-nonsense Vietnam Vet, placed an injunction on the hunts and overturned the Bush administration delisting order.

Revoltingly, the Obama administration redrafted the Bush wolf-killing plan and again stripped the wolf of its protections under the Endangered Species Act. So now both Montana and Idaho are set to kill hundreds of wolves each in state authorized hunts—unless Judge Molloy once again intervenes to halt the killings. Both states have brazenly threatened to defy the court if Judge Molloy rules in favor of the wolf. The putatively progressive governor of Montana at the time, Brian Schweitzer, was especially bellicose on the matter, vowing: “If some old judge says we can’t hunt wolves, we’ll take it back to another judge.”

In Idaho, the state plans to allow 220 wolves to be killed in its annual hunt and more than 6,000 wolf gunners have bought tags for the opportunity to participate in the slaughter. Up near Fairflied, Idaho rancher vigilantes are taking matters into their own hands. Six wolves from the Solider Mountain pack in the wilds of central Idaho were killed, probably from eating a carcass laced with poison. Don’t expect justice for these wolves. Rex Rammell, a Republican from Idaho, has placed wolf eradication at the top of his political agenda. Rammell also made repeated quips about getting a hunting tag for Obama. After catching some heat for this boast, Rammell sent out a clarifying Tweet: “Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, D.C.” Welcome to Idaho, where Sarah Palin got educated.

Across the valley, the wolf is standing rigid, his ears pricked by the bickering of a group of ravens below him on the far bank of Trout Creek. He moves slowly down the slope, stepping gingerly through the sagebrush. He stops at one of the looping meanders, wades into the water and swims downstream. He slides into the tall grass and then playfully leaps out, startling the ravens, who have been busy gleaning a bison carcass. Earlier in the morning a mother grizzly and two cubs had feasted here, I later learned from a Park biologist. Perhaps the Canyon wolves had made the kill, only to be driven away by a persuasive bear. Perhaps it was an old bull, killed during the rut.

The wolf raises his leg and pisses on the grass near the kill site.  He sniffs the ground and paces around the remains. Then he rolls again, twisting his body violently in mud near the bison hide and bones. The ravens return, pestering and chiding the wolf. He dismisses their antics and grabs a bone in his mouth.

I lurch down the hillside for a better view, bang my aching foot on a shard of basalt and squeal, “Fuck!”

The wolf’s ears stiffen again. He stares at me, bares his teeth, growls and sprints up and over the ridge, his mouth still clamped tightly on the prized bone, and down into the Alum valley, where he disappears into the dancing dust of mating bison.

This essay is excerpted from Heatstroke: Earth On the Brink, forthcoming soon from CounterPunch Books.

More than 1,200 Yellowstone bison killed this winter

FILE (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Operations to kill bison in Yellowstone National Park for slaughter have come to an end, with more than 1,200 bison culled this winter.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports the park released figures Wednesday showing 748 bison were consigned to slaughter this year. Another 453 were killed by hunters from Native American tribes and the state of Montana.

The total winter death toll marks the highest number of bison killed in the Yellowstone area since 2008. It also falls just short of the removal goal bison managers set in the fall.

Bison are taken from the area each year because of a management plan established in 2000 that calls for a population of 3,000 bison in the region. Park biologists estimate there are 5,500 bison there now.

Groups sue to halt hunting at Grand Teton

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Environmental groups filed a pair of federal lawsuits on Wednesday to stop hunting that is now allowed on hundreds of acres within Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and has claimed three bison.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates claimed in the lawsuits other species could be hunted.

Hunting generally isn’t allowed in national parks, though Grand Teton for decades has hosted an annual elk hunt in coordination with state wildlife officials.

The hunt — formally known as an elk reduction program — was part of a state-federal compromise that enabled the park to be established in its current boundaries in 1950.

A 2014 agreement between Grand Teton and Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials improperly allows hunting dozens of species on private and state land within Grand Teton, the groups claim.

The groups worry that grizzly bears and wolves could soon be targeted by hunters if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife succeeds in removing the animals from federal protection as threatened and endangered species.

“For more than 65 years, the National Park Service rightfully and lawfully exercised authority to protect all park wildlife,” said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the NPCA. “It should continue to do so moving forward.”

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw declined to comment, citing agency policy on pending litigation.

The lawsuits involve dozens of parcels of state and private land called inholdings located within the park. National park land completely surrounds most inholdings, which total well under 1 percent of Grand Teton’s 485 square miles.

Significant inholdings include two state parcels, each measuring a square mile, and a pair of relatively small ranches of 450 and 120 acres.

National Park Service and state officials began discussing whether federal or state laws would be enforced on Grand Teton inholdings after a wolf was shot on a private inholding in the park in 2014.

Federal prosecutors declined to charge the shooter, finding that park officials had erred in determining that federal wildlife law for national parks took precedence on the private land.

Park officials agreed later that year that state law would take precedence on all inholdings. The four environmental groups are contesting that agreement with the lawsuits.

“Wildlife obviously don’t pay attention to title records and move around on all of those parcels,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing Defenders of Wildlife and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “You cannot maintain the park, the integrity of the park as a preserve for wildlife protection, when you have these islands where wildlife can be killed.”

The number of Grand Teton inholdings dwindled after decades of buyouts by the National Park Service. Wyoming officials have been trying for years, with limited success, to get the Interior Department to acquire all remaining state inholdings.

The last two inholdings, together worth perhaps $100 million, command prime views of the Teton Range. In 2010, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal threatened to sell to the highest bidder if the federal government didn’t get serious about taking them off the state’s hands.

Recent negotiations between state and federal officials have focused on possibly trading the sections for federal land and mineral rights elsewhere in Wyoming

Trapping and slaughter of hundreds of Yellowstone bison begins


Josh Hafner

Yellowstone National Park officials started trapping bison Monday as part of an annual effort to kill hundreds of the area’s iconic animals through hunting or shipment to slaughterhouses.

Government agencies aim to drive down the bison population by as many as 900 this year to reduce the mammals’ centuries-old migration beyond the park’s boundaries and into Montana, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

A plan calls for eventually culling bison in the park from about 5,000 down to 3,000.

Efforts to winnow the bison’s migration came after fears from Montana ranchers and landowners that the bison may vie with cattle for grazing space or transmit disease, according to the Associated Press.

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About half of Yellowstone’s bison have been exposed to brucellosis, an animal disease that causes abortion in cattle, AP reports. There are no recorded cases of it moving from bison to cattle.

“There is recognition by both disease regulators and wildlife managers that the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle is minute,” the National Park Service told Vice magazine last year.

In 1995, Montana sued the National Park Service over bison migration into the state. The settlement created a plan requiring hundreds of bison to be captured and killed each year.

A record-high 1,726 bison were captured in the park in 2008, according to AP, with most sent to slaughterhouses.

Meat and hides from the slaughtered bison are distributed among members of Native American Tribes, according to the National Park Service.

In 1902, the herd of bison in Yellowstone dwindled to as low as 23. The park now counts near-record levels of its bison, according to AP, which biologists cherish as genetically pure.

While hunters had killed more than 300 bison as of Sunday, the Chronicle reported, the park said it wasn’t enough to negate the need for regular capture and slaughter.

“We understand that many people are uncomfortable with the practice of capture and slaughter—we are too, so we’re looking for additional alternatives,” the Park Service said in a guide to the controversy on its site.

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner

Francis Marsh, right, a Cayuse Indian from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Ore., stands next to a bison he shot and killed near Gardiner, Montana on Feb. 12, 2011.© Ted S. Warren, AP Francis Marsh, right, a Cayuse Indian from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Ore., stands next to a bison he shot and killed near Gardiner, Montana on