Part 2: Wichita Mountain Majesty – Bison on the Refuge

Welcome back to my Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge adventure! In my last post, we explored the fascinating world of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog. Now, we shift our focus to the true giants of the refuge – the mighty bison!

As I mentioned earlier, my first evening at the refuge (May 28th, 2024) was filled with photographic opportunities. And what better subject for my lens than a bison standing peacefully on the prairie?

Close Up with a Wichita Mountain Bison
Close Up with a Wichita Mountain Bison

These magnificent creatures aren’t just a visual feast; they’re also living testaments to a remarkable conservation success story. Here are some fascinating facts about the bison at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge:

  • Teddy’s Refuge: President Theodore Roosevelt himself established the refuge in 1905, specifically to protect bison and provide them a haven to rebuild their populations.
  • Herd History: The very first bison arrived in 1907, a gift of 15 animals from the New York Zoological Park. These initial animals played a crucial role in establishing the current herd, which boasts a healthy population of around 650!
  • National Champions: The Wichita Mountains hold the title of having the largest bison herd managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, making it a true national treasure.
  • Keeping it Diverse: Maintaining genetic diversity is crucial for herd health. The refuge staff gathers blood and hair samples during annual roundups for analysis. In 2018, new bison bulls from Colorado’s Turner Ranches were introduced to strengthen the gene pool.
  • Vaccinating the Young Ones: Each November, bison calves receive vaccinations during the annual roundup, an event that draws many visitors eager to witness this important process.
  • Wild and Free: These bison are truly wild animals. They roam freely and graze on native grasses and plants, with no supplemental feeding to keep their natural behavior intact. Visitors must always observe them from a safe distance.
  • Bison Rustlers? Believe it or not, bison calf poaching was an issue in the 1940s! Increased ranger patrols and rewards for information on these “rustlers” helped curb this activity.
  • International Matchmaker: Talk about a long-distance relationship! An Oklahoma-born bison from the refuge was shipped all the way to the London Zoo in 1949 to become a companion for a lonely bull there.
A Bison on the Roam
A Bison on the Roam

The Wichita Mountains bison herd is a shining example of successful conservation efforts. Visitors to the refuge have the privilege of witnessing these iconic animals roaming free in their natural habitat, a powerful reminder of the importance of protecting these majestic creatures.

Stay tuned for more wildlife encounters from my trip in the coming posts!