Moving Bison

zapata ranch, the nature conservancy

Bison Stampede : Prints Available

In a scene reminiscent of the old west, American bison are moved to a holding pen during the annual autumn roundup at The Nature Conservancy's Zapata Ranch. The bison had just burst through a gate and resumed grazing a few minutes later. 

It is said that bison can be moved – when they want to. American Bison, once nearly extirpated from the Great Plains, stand up to six feet tall and weigh as much as a ton (males). They are among the most impressive creatures on this continent. In the late 1800’s, few bison had survived the slaughter during Western expansion. From 1873 to 1889, six men captured 88 bison that remained on the North American plains. Charles “Buffalo” Jones, Frederic Dupree, Walking Coyote, Charles Goodnight, Charles Alloway and James McKay each had their own reasons for saving the disappearing species; some had an altruistic vision of saving bison from extinction while others saw possible business opportunities. Later, William Hornaday convinced Teddy Roosevelt to establish the American Bison Society in 1905 “for the permanent preservation and increase of the American bison.” Today, more than 400,000 bison graze public and private lands, contributing to the health of plains habitat that supports life in the West. Although bison dominate the Zapata landscape, a host of other creatures benefit from these nomadic grazers. And don’t be fooled, they may be a domestic herd, but they’re not domesticated. They go where they want to go, when they’re darn good and ready.

rancher, bison

Sorting Horses : Prints Available

 A rancher's day starts early as riders sort horses before dawn. The riders were preparing to gather bison at the annual autumn roundup.

Riders are assembled and ready to herd bison to a large holding area during the Zapata Ranch roundup. This isn’t a loping cattle drive. These highly-skilled riders will carefully approach the scattered bison, then synchronistically ride full tilt over broken terrain to bring the bison in. Bison are extraordinarily athletic creatures, capable of galloping over 30 miles per hour.

Team leaders and ranch managers Duke Phillips and Jeff Gossage lead the riders out at bison roundup.

Sandhill Cranes In Autumn Meadow.

Seeing the same sandhill cranes that we photographed last spring back at Zapata makes me happy. These amazing ancient birds left New Mexico in late February, migrated through the San Luis Valley and up to Greater Yellowstone, mated, raised their young, and are migrating back for the winter. Here they are in a bison meadow on a golden autumn evening, the Sangre De Cristo Range providing the vertical backdrop. Cranes don’t see the landscape as a checkerboard of public and private lands; they’re just looking for good habitat to continue on their prehistoric journey. Sustainable ranching at Zapata Ranch makes for great wildlife habitat, an honest living through ranching, and a great visitor experience that’s rare in the world.

4 thoughts on “Moving Bison

    1. Thanks Jack, I appreciate that. Fall is such a great time for wildlife and it continues way beyond leaves falling. Right now deer are in rut, elk are migrating, eagles are arriving, bighorn are starting rut…

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