Yellowstone Will Close Off Park To Conduct Secret Slaughter

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Today, there are around 5,000 bison roaming Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. On February 15, between 600 and 900 of those animals will be rounded up, sorted and put into a holding facility. Some may become anxious - they've never been in such a small space before - and gore other bison, or shove them into the walls of the pen. Eventually, they'll all be killed.

This is Yellowstone National Park's annual bison cull.

So, why would Yellowstone want to kill so many of its own animals? Turns out, it's mostly to please agitated cattle ranchers in neighboring Montana.

"Each year since 2000, the National Park Service and other agencies ... determine a number of buffalo that they'd ideally like to 'remove' from the Yellowstone population," Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) lawyer Stefanie Wilson told The Dodo. According to Wilson, the alleged reasoning for the cull is twofold: to avoid overwhelming the land, and to protect farmers' beef cattle from a disease called brucellosis.

Brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can cause fever, joint pain and fatigue, is often passed from livestock to humans via unpasteurized milk and other dairy products. But Wilson noted that although bison can suffer from brucellosis, there has never been a documented case of a bison passing the disease to a cow or bull.

"It is only theoretically possible based on a lab test," she said.

Buffalo Field Campaign, which is working to stop the bison slaughter entirely, also notes that there are no cattle in West Yellowstone for most of the year, and therefore no risk of transmission. (From November to June, cattle are trucked out of the area and into milder temperatures.)

And when the bison - including calves - are herded toward the holding facilities, it may disrupt other wildlife, too. "During a typical hazing operation, the ... agencies ride noisy, smelly snowmobiles, fly helicopters, run horses, and ride ATVs throughout sensitive habitat important to numerous wildlife species," the Buffalo Field Campaign wrote. When they flee from the noise, many animals - elk, moose, swans - use up energy they can't afford to spend during a cold winter.

Finally, there's the matter of the cull itself, details of which have been kept notably under wraps. In fact, parts of the park - public land - will be closed to the public during the event.

The ALDF is currently representing journalist Chris Ketcham and wildlife advocate Stephany Seay in a case against the National Park Service. Both Ketcham and Seay want to know exactly what will happen to the bison when the capture and kill operation takes place - especially given the reports about bison injuring each other in their extremely close quarters.

"These are wild animals," Wilson said. "They are not domesticated livestock."

Seay, Ketcham and their legal team are arguing that, under the First Amendment, the public has a legal right to this information.

"The federal government manages the National Parks, and the wildlife that reside in those refuges, in trust for the American public and future generations," Wilson said.

Now, it's up to the National Parks Service to protect that trust - and spare the lives of its innocent bison.

You can watch footage of the buffalo holding facilities below.

click to play video

If you'd like to donate toward bison conservation efforts, including preventing this cull, you can do so through the Buffalo Field Campaign.