Restoring Bison to the Great Plains

Just back from central Montana where I was working with the team from the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to tag bison with solar ear tags across the Sun Prairie management unit.  Amazing trip and an incredible experience to have my hands on bison.  Phenomenal to see these incredible beasts up close.  Very much looking forward to the day when we can finally say that bison are once again wild and free ranging across the Great Plains.

Getting ready to tag a young bison with a GPS solar tag.  Photo courtesy: Roshan Patel.

As part of efforts to understand how bison use the landscape, we aim to fit as many bison as possible with GPS solar tags.  All credit goes to Hila Shamon, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, that has done all the leg work to purchase the tags.

A mOOvement tag, developed to track the whereabouts of cattle.  Photo credit: Roshan Patel

Devices, developed by an Australian manufacturer (mOOvement), weigh about 30g and have been designed to track the whereabouts of cattle.  However, they can also be affixed to the ear of bison.  We have programmed the devices to collect a GPS position every hour.  Over the 4 day capture and handling procedure, we fitted 89 bison with solar ear tags.  An amazing dataset to start investigating collective movement behavior in the herd.

As you can imagine, handling bison is no simple process.  Animals must first be rounded up so that they can quickly and safely be processed.  Similar to how ranchers handle cattle, bison are pushed through a chute system.  We collected blood for disease testing and in some cases, a fecal sample.  Many thanks to the professionalism of the staff at APR.  No major injuries to man or beast throughout the week.

An aerial perspective of the capture facility. Photo courtesy: Roshan Patel

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