Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive November 2009 Show 0948 Buffalo Auction

Buffalo Auction

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is home to our nation’s oldest buffalo refuge. Inside you’ll find hundreds of the giant beasts that give testament to over a century of conservation.
Buffalo Auction

Buffalo

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Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Show Dates

Show 0948: Buffalo Auction

Air date: November 29, 2009

 

Transcript

Rob:  Well, Medicine Park sits in the foothills of the Wichita Mountains, which is home to our nation’s oldest buffalo refuge.  Inside you’ll find hundreds of the giant beasts that give testament to over a century of conservation.  Joining me now with more is our Betiel Michaels.

Betiel:  Well Rob, while auctioning off buffalo to the highest bidder may not sound like a conservation tool, it actually is.  Held the fourth Thursday every October, the annual event helps maintain the overall health of the herd and we were there as the century old tradition unfolded.

Betiel:  Think of it as a necessary reality in the world of conservation.

Jeff Rupert:  The bison auction is the tool that we use to manage the bison herd on the refuge.  The refuge only has a certain caring capacity that we monitor and so, that the animals don’t out-strip the resource we simply have to essentially cull the herd every year.

Betiel:  Jeff Rupert spends his days overseeing the daily activities of the refuge.

Jeff:  So we’re selling calves, young adults, and old adults and everything in between.

Male voice:  35 and 55 on your adult cows; 35, she’s going to weigh 190 pounds.

Betiel:  Buyers travel and near and far enduring the cold to get in on the action.

Jeff:  There are, there are professional commercial bison ranchers here and they’re looking for animals for their existing herds.  There are people here who are thinking about managing bison for the first time and nine out of ten of them will, two months from now, decide they made a poor choice; and then there are folks here who will buy an animal, take it to the slaughterhouse and fill up their freezer.  So, it’s really a diverse group.

Betiel:  When it comes to deciding which animals stay and which don’t...

Jeff:  We make cull decisions based on the sex ratio of the herd, we manage the herd for a natural even age distribution.

Betiel:  But this auction wouldn’t be as successful if there wasn’t demand for buffalo meat.

Jeff:  The bison market is really expanded over the last several decades, and actually it’s a pretty healthy meat market.  Bison is recognized as pretty healthy meat, low in fat, low in cholesterol.

Betiel:  And ironically that’s a good thing for the animal’s survival.  Asked what would happen without any population control, Jeff says…

Jeff:  Quite frankly they would eat themselves out of house and home; it’s really quite simple.

Jeff:  Well the refuge is fifty-nine thousand twenty acres which sounds like a lot, and it is, it’s nearly twenty-four square miles and it’s a large tract of land; however, when you start doing things like managing herds of bison and elk, sixty thousand acres, fifty-nine thousand acres suddenly isn’t as big as it seems.  I mean, you know, it’s not a limitless area.

Betiel:  But it is large enough to support six hundred and fifty buffalo that live much like their ancestors did.

Jeff:  You know we’re not in the business of raising bison, I mean this isn’t a commercial operation.

Betiel:  Jeff maintains outside of the yearly auction and the grazing animals are left alone to live out their lives on the grasslands that sit below the Wichita Mountains.

Betiel:  So while the auction may be used as a conservation tool it’s also a chance to get an up close look at one of America’s most iconic animals.

Jeff:  Oh, you bet, it’s a bit of an event, I mean it’s not every day that you can go out and watch a bison auction and get as close to an animal as an American bison as you can here.

Betiel:  Okay.

Jeff:  Yeah, you know, it’s kind of exciting, I mean they’re not domestic animals and anyone who thinks of them as domestic animals is making a mistake, they’re wild animals; but it’s a rare opportunity to see them as close as you can during this auction.

Betiel:  Believe it or not, the herds you just saw in that story all descended from fifteen buffalo that were brought to the refuge from New York in 1907.  At that time, of course, the buffalo was in danger of extinction; but through the work of biologists and conservationists at the refuge, their numbers are growing and they’re making a comeback.

Rob:  So does that mean the iconic animal is actually off the hot seat?

Betiel:  Well, they’re not in danger of becoming physically extinct, but they are in danger of becoming genetically extinct because so many of today’s buffalo throughout the United States all descend from a very small group of animals.

Rob:  Alright, thank you Betiel.