Officials at Yellowstone National Park have started rounding up bison. This is happening due to possibly slaughtering the large animals in the next few days in order to cull the herd and prevent the spread of disease, ABC News reports.
Every year, visitors to the expansive national park to see bison, thousands of whom call the park home. In fact, so many of the bovids live in the park that, for now, there might actually be too many, another reason authorities want to cull the herd.
Specifically, about 4,900 bison are known or believed to live in Yellowstone, a number that, if it gets too high, leads to what’s known as the “winter migration,” in which the animals descend from higher elevations of the park in search of food.
Sometimes, that means that the animals leave the park, which can cause problems for cattle ranchers. Specifically, the bison that mingle with domesticated cattle can bring disease. Currently, cattle ranchers in the area are concerned about the spread of the bacterial disease brucellosis, which bison are known to carry.
To that end, park officials have reached an agreement with ranchers to cull the bison herd to keep the disease under control when the number of animals gets too high.
This year, officials hope to cull about 900 bison.
What that actually means, however, will vary in its execution.
Some animals will simply be slaughtered. Also, a limited number of hunting permits will be issued, so that the animals can be culled via being hunted. Other bison — about 110 of them — will be quarantined, with a view towards relocating them.
For example, several Native American tribes have asked the federal government to bring them excess Yellowstone bison to repopulate lands where the animals formerly roamed. And indeed, last year 55 male bison were transported to Fort Peck Indian Reservation, to live in a fenced-in area.
It remains unclear when or if more bison — including potentially breeding pairs of males and females — will be moved to other Native American reservations.
Meanwhile, officials have captured six bison attempting to leave the park. Those animals are currently held in quarantine and will likely be slaughtered.
For millennia, bison roamed the Great Plains by the millions. However, they were actually nearly hunted to extinction, as some deliberately killed off the beast in order to cut off Indian tribes from a primary source of food. However, efforts in the 20th century to bring the animal back have been hugely successful to the point in which the ungulates are no longer considered an endangered species.