Buffalo to be moved from Catalina Island to South Dakota

Buffalo to be moved from Catalina Island to South Dakota.. KEYWORDS: buffalo bison american bison bufflo the animal buffalo habitat saving the buffalo South Dakota Catalina Island buffalo California Tongva tribe Morongo tribe Lakota tribe +buffalo

AUTHOR: Pat Brennen, The Orange County Register

Nearly half the buffalo herd that runs free on Santa Catalina Island will be rounded up and shipped to an Indian reservation in South Dakota next month, returning the animals to their ancestral home and easing ecological pressure on the island. The island's buffalo, descendants of 14 brought there for a movie in the 1920s, are a favorite with tourists and island residents. But since 1972, some have been removed every few years to keep the herd from growing so large that island plants are ravaged and the buffalo begin to starve.

In past years the buffalo have been auctioned. But last year, for the first time, 104 were taken to Lakota Indian reservations in South Dakota.

The buffalo took to their new, snowy home, and another group will be taken to another Lakota reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 15.

"It's like their genes kick in: We're home!" said Leslie Baer, spokeswoman for the Catalina Island Conservancy, which is in charge of the project.

California Tongva and Morongo tribe members, as well as Lakota, plan to sing and dance as the buffalo are moved off the island. The buffalo will not be hunted or slaughtered for meat in their new home, Baer said.

The Catalina buffalo herd, now numbering about 250, once grew to as many as 600 animals. But lack of food left them thin and hungry. In 1972, the conservancy began moving some off the island every few years and selling them at auction.

Last year's experimental removal to Indian reservations seemed like a success. The animals quickly grew winter coats – something they don't do on Catalina Island – and put on about 100 pounds each.

This year, they will be moved to a 50,000-acre ranch area. Although they will still be considered a captive herd, they'll have more room to roam than they do now on the island, Baer said.

The roundup, which has already begun, involves baiting the buffalo into pens, where they will await their departure. Baer said the more picturesque cowboy-on-horseback roundup won't be tried because the Catalina buffalo are, unlike cattle, unaccustomed to being handled that way and could cause injury.

Buffalo – more properly, American bison – once ranged freely across the West, used by plains Indians for food, clothing and shelter. But most were systematically killed by settlers in the 19th century.

A wild herd still roams Yellowstone National Park.

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