At the turn of the 19th Century, approximately 60 million buffalo inhabited the United States, ranging from the Pacific Ocean in Oregon to the Atlantic Ocean in Florida. They thrived as their populations lived in balance with the Native Americans and plentiful other wildlife.
As the 19th Century progressed, the buffalo were systematically killed off under the direction of the U.S. government. By the year 1900, only 23 buffalo survived. These few fortunate ones hid out in the remote Pelican Valley of Yellowstone Park.
Like elephants, the family structure of buffalo is determined by the females. Male offspring leave their birth families by about age 3, living lives in solitude or joining up with other bachelors in bachelor groups.
Again like elephants, buffalo demonstrate emotions that include a reverence for the passing of loved ones. Ceremonial behaviors have been witnessed at places of death.
Yellowstone Park has been controlling the buffalo population within the park by killing since shortly after the park’s creation in 1872. Every winter, hundreds of buffalo are captured in a trap and trucked off to a slaughterhouse, this in addition to the hundreds allowed to be killed by hunters as the buffalo migrate out of the park in search of food.
In the winter of 1996-1997, the U.S. Park Service slaughtered over 1,000 buffalo and in combination with an extremely harsh winter, nearly two-thirds of Yellowstone’s buffalo were lost. Outraged, a small group of passionate human beings formed the Buffalo Field Campaign. To this day, this is the only conservation organization speaking out on behalf of the park’s buffalo.
Despite its fame, Yellowstone Park is a remote place and most Americans have never been there. Further, most Americans have no knowledge of the perils the buffalo face every winter. But since the year 2000, Mike Mease of the Buffalo Field Campaign has toured the Western United States every Fall to inform the public about the lives of Yellowstone’s buffalo and the threat to their survival. To date, Mease has spoken to tens of thousands of adults and school children.
The history of the United States is woven throughout with ironies. One such irony revolves around Yellowstone’s buffalo. While the buffalo has ceremoniously been declared the national mammal and boldly appears on the logo of the National Park Service, the treatment of the buffalo by various governmental agencies, particularly the Park Service, continues to be unconscionable.