Buffalo Roam Free at the 7,000-Acre Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park In Ohio

Did you know that there’s a place in Ohio where the buffalo roam free? Few people do.

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park in Galloway, Ohio is home to two prairies where you can watch these majestic animals graze.

It’s a hidden gem beloved by locals and a pleasant surprise to visitors who aren’t from the area. Here’s why this truly unique park is a must-visit, no matter what time of year it is:

Stretching across more than 7,000 acres, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park is home to a herd of bison that roam free. It’s a best kept Ohio secret.

The buffalo roam freely within two enclosed pastures. You can often view the herd from the Darby Creek Greenway Trail, the bison overlook deck and the Nature Center.

Once the spring season hits, the bison get a health check-up before they’re released from the winter grazing area and sent into the prairie pasture.

In addition to watching these majestic creatures roam, you’ll want to check out the wetlands—a diverse landscape makes this park special.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Vore Buffalo Jump—Part 2

The Vore Jump site is considered important because of its location and the period of time it was used for buffalo hunting.

Literally it is located a stone’s throw from a major highway—I-90—the longest transcontinental freeway and interstate highway in the US which crosses the US from Boston to Seattle (3,021 miles; 4,862 km).

This northernmost transcontinental route was established in 1956, so it sees lots of traffic, especially in summer with families traveling to mountain vacation lands.

In fact, it made a rare curve to avoid the Vore Buffalo Jump itself—which was discovered by highway engineers surveying the I-90 route.

Because it is on a major route, people on the Vore Foundation board point out that their Buffalo Jump is the most accessible of the major Plains Indian sites to the traveling public.

“Thus it provides a perfect physical context for illuminating Plains Indian culture and history and presenting it to visitors.”

The importance of the Vore Jump is that it marks a clear transition in major movements of Native Indian populations from east to farther west after European settlement began on the east coast.

It was used as a buffalo jump for about 250 to 300 years, beginning in around 1500 when Europeans were just beginning their encroachment of lands on the Atlantic Seaboard.

Map shows where I-90 goes west from Spearfish SD in the Black Hills, takes a swerve at the Vore Buffalo Jump site, from which it’s only a few miles to Devils Tower National Monument and on beyond to the east entrance of Yellowstone Park via Beartooth Pass and Cooke City. Photo credit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation.

At that time, all Native weapons and implements were hand-made of bone or rock, sometimes traded from one tribe to the next. Dogs pulling travois were used to haul their goods.

Then came a time of western movement of Indian tribes. Many tribes left their homes and adopted a nomadic Plains lifestyle that followed buffalo herds, embracing a new culture interrelated with and dependent on the buffalo for most all their needs.

For most of their history, meat and hides obtained from buffalo jumps were used by Native Americans for their own subsistence. But as manufactured items became available, Plains tribes began trading for them with tanned buffalo robes, jerky and pemmican.

Gradually metal tools and guns became trade items that occasionally reached the Plains tribes, and they learned to value trade goods from various sources—beads, cloth, blankets, guns, knives and unfortunately, alcohol.

Then during the early 1700s some tribes, beginning with the Comanche and Apache in the south, began trading for horses that escaped the Spaniards—who had tried mightily to prevent Natives at Mexican border missions from learning to ride.

By 1750 horses reached the northern tribes, led by the Shoshone, who raised great herds of horses at an early date.

Native tribes understood the advantages of the horse immediately. They grew up from childhood with horses, trained them, rode long distances in war, raiding and hunting. They became some of the greatest horsemen the world has ever known.

And since on horseback, hunters could surround a herd of buffalo, ride alongside and kill their target with one bullet to a fatal spot—usefulness of the Vore Buffalo Jump came to an end about 1800. It had outlived its purpose.

Eventually horses made buffalo jumps obsolete, but trade expanded. Archaeology at the Vore Site will help us understand when and how this transition occurred.

We might say that the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation is notable further because it is a non-profit organization in the finest sense. More about that later.

Interstate highway I-90 swung to the left in this photo to avoid the historic Buffalo Jump at the Sinkhole. It gets a great deal of east-west travel and is considered a major route to summer vacation lands in the mountains. VBJF.

When they were told they had to erect a handrail or close, the foundation had pretty much spent its last dime and requested donations. Local people who supported the project stepped up. Even a touring 4th grade class opened their pockets and donated—and the railing went up quickly. VBJF.

Who used the Sinkhole Jump?

Buffalo bones are found at 22 levels at the Vore site, the top levels are most recent from about 1800. VBJF.

While no specific level of the sinkhole has been designated to one cultural group, the tribes who most likely used the Vore sink hole were the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Kowa, Plains Apache and Shoshone, according to Greg Pierce, PhD, a Wyoming Archeologist who earned his graduate degree at the Vore Buffalo Jump site.

Dr Pierce’s specialty was weapons and implements used for butchering the bison trapped in the sinkhole at Vore. Pierce also served on the Vore Foundation Board for 12 years

Working with only the 6 upper bone levels, he found fewer stone tools and flakes used in the upper, most recent levels. This means a greater percentage of metal tools were being used more recently than before.

This was indeed a time of gradual transition from stone age tools to new reliance on metal.

For example each of the 5 top levels (with level 1 as the most recent, at about 1800) showed metal cut marks on the bones as well as stone marks. However the percentages clearly reveal the transition moving from stone to metal.

Near the top, in the most recent Levels, 1 to 5, he found between 100% and 63% of the bones showed gradually increasing numbers of metal cuts. While at Level 6 only 33% of butchering attempts were made by metal implements.

“An analysis for bone surface modifications can identify human made marks such as cutting, chopping and scraping associated with bison skinning, butchering and marrow processing. This analysis can show the difference between stone and metal tool marks,” he writes.

Even though researchers at Vore have as yet found no metal tools, Pierce was able to identify the various implements used from cuts on the bones. Some of the evidence required a microscope to see clearly.

“Since less than 10% of the Vore Site has been excavated, steel implements may yet be found,” he says.

Arrows can often be identified by the area they came from in trade.

All weapon points found at the Vore Site are arrow points like these. Except that all found here were broken or no longer re-workable. A broken arrow point or stone tool was found in nearly every square meter in every layer during excavations at Vore. VBJF.

“These tribes all occupied or moved through the area between approximately 1500 and 1800 AD,“ Pierce wrote in his research report ‘State Archaeologist reports on his Research at Vore Buffalo Jump.’

“Environmental changes during this time resulted in improved foraging for bison in the region, resulting in larger, more densely distributed herds.

“Taking advantage of the situation many native groups intensified their bison hunting activities. This brought a number of tribal groups living in the Great Lakes region of North America slowly moving westward onto the Plains as bison hunting took an ever increasing role in their subsistence practices.

As part of this transition these people gave up a semi-sedentary village lifestyle for a bison hunting way of life—on foot. By the 17th century Euromericans and Euromerican goods began to influence native lifeways. Native American groups began moving westward away from European settlements.

This influx of new populations had an impact on existing political alliances, hunting practices and tribal territorial claims. In some cases these movements led to conflict pushing existing populations in the region further west or south.

“This domino effect ultimately proved to be yet another factor in the migration of tribal groups into the High Plains and Black Hills during the 18th and 19th centuries.

“Part of this process involved the dissemination of the horse and gun throughout the West. The horse, gun and accompanying Euromerican goods reached the Black Hills and High Plains by at least the 18th century and were quickly integrated into native hunting and warfare practices.

“The most important result was the development of the Plains horse culture,” Pierce pointed out. “The horse brought the Native Americans a freedom of movement never possible before and many plains tribes developed a nomadic lifestyle that followed the herds.“

Stone tools transitioned to Metal in Recent bone Layers

Thus Pierce points out that the Vore site saw the transition from stone to metal tools, and it saw the transition from the bison jump method by men on foot to the introduction of the horse.

When discovered the Vore Buffalo Jump was merely a weed-covered hole in the ground. Arrow points and blades found in the Vore bone bed are mostly broken or unusable. It’s clear the good ones were not left behind, but were valued, pulled out and kept to use again. VBJF.

“The unique history of the use of the Vore site makes it an ideal dataset from which to examine this tumultuous era as this single site provides a cross section of time, in one location that researchers can use to investigate historic events, activities and processes,” he concludes 

All weapon points found at the Vore Site are arrow points. An arrow point or stone tool was found in about every square meter in every layer during excavations here.

The arrow points found in the site were those lost during butchering or were broken and no longer re-workable

Many of the stone tools found in the sinkhole are Knife River flint from quarries in North Dakota about 200 miles to the northwest. These quarries were likely controlled by the Crow during the time of Vore Site use.

The crowd joined hands around the new tipi for a prayer and Friendship dance. VBJF.

Learning to Make a Tipi

A special event took place at the Vore Buffalo Jump site in 2014 when the Foundation Board decided they needed a tipi to exhibit in one of their buildings.

Not just any tipi, but an authentic tipi from the time the Vore Buffalo Jump was being used. They had high standards. That meant it had to be small enough and light enough to be hauled by one or two dogs.

People in charge of the Vore Buffalo Jump have tried to use ancient Native American methods and authentic Native tools in their work when possible.

The buffalo hides had to be tanned in just the way women tanned and sewed them together for tipis long before they had horses. So why not find Native women to do it?

They soon found that the main expert in the art was closer than they imagined. The ancient technique was taught at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana—not so very far away.

A class of Northern Cheyenne women in Chief Dull Knife College was studying just that. They had their own mission and said they’d be delighted to come, tan buffalo hides the old way and make the proper kind of tipi needed right on the Vore site itself.

In fact it would be ‘a dream fulfilled.’ The seven women who came on that mission were Larie Clown, Victoria Haugen, Lori Killsontop, Tee Jay Littlewolf, Maria Russell, Rebekah Threefingers and Jodi Waters.

The last time their community had constructed a similar tipi was around 1877 when herds of buffalo were on the verge of extinction and reservations were being established.

The Vore foundation was determined to get grant funds together and do it right. And they did.

“The 5 buffalo hides, sinews and other materials needed were expensive,” says Jackie Wyatt of the VBJF, who lives in Sundance WY.

“To bring this long-sought dream into reality required the effort of the Cheyenne workers, Larry Belitz who directed the tipi-making, and behind-the-scene work of Vore Buffalo Jump Board of Directors.”

And so the tipi was constructed on site by students accompanied by an instructor from Chief Dull Knife College under the guidance of Larry Belitz, the world expert on the technique.

The tipi made by the Northern Cheyenne women found a home in the big research building down in the sinkhole. Because the Vore Jump was used before the time of horses, the tipi, made from 5 buffalo hides, was of the smaller size to be pulled by dog travois. It weighs about 90 pounds so the travois would probably be pulled by two dogs. VBJF.

When finished, the tipi found a home in the large research building in the sinkhole, providing inspiration to researchers and volunteers as they work to excavate new layers of bones and develop new educational panels.

Reaching out to the Next Generation

Kids enjoy the BJ Bison sketches and other age-specific materials designed for them as they learn about the ancient heritage of their state and region. VBJF.

Leaders in the Vore Jump Foundation feel a special responsibility to teach the next generation of young people about their heritage. They feel certain the legacy and future of this delightful site is in the hands of 4th graders and their teachers.

The location of the Vore sinkhole near the corner of four states—Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota, and literally only a stone’s throw from Interstate 90—makes it very convenient for schools in the area.

The BJ Bison drawing above is familiar to youth who’ve been on the Vore tour. A number of educational materials are directed specifically to their age group—especially the 4th graders who generally study their state’s history. After that, 8th graders and high school students who take Plains history are targeted.

The off-season field trip program hosts about 1,000 students every year. The Vore Site stays open from June 1 through Labor Day in September from 8 am to 6 pm.

After that it is available for schools and off-season tours by request. Volunteers happily give tours to school kids.

Contact for teaching staff please call 307-266-9530; Email: info@vorebuffalojump.org or write Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation, 369 Old U.S. 14, Sundance, WY 82729.

The Vore Buffalo Jump hosts about 1,000 students every year. It’s location near the corner of four states—Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota, and literally only a stone’s throw from Interstate 90—makes it very accessible to schools in the area. VBJF.

A true Non-profit: Vore Buffalo Jump

The non-profit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation board operates like a true non-profit. They have virtually no administrative costs.

Think of what that means. That many highly qualified people are contributing their talents. It’s a labor of love.

And sure enough, Jackie Wyatt tells me that 8 people living within 50 miles serve on the Foundation Board—all volunteering their time, talents, concerns and money.

Another 10 or 12 persons serve as an advisory board. These include educators, college professors and US Forest Service anthropologists, who also volunteer their services.

These people rise to the occasion when needed. Contribute their time, talents and cash to this amazingly difficult million-dollar project that suddenly dropped in their laps, only because of where they happen to live.

And when I reflect, it’s to realize this is what rural people do all the time. They get the job done. These people won’t fail in their mission. It is indeed a labor of love.

The Vore decision makers also have high standards, not to be compromised.

For example when they commissioned the construction of the tipi. They found the best talent and paid what was needed.

For the Northern Cheyenne women too, the tipi project was a labor of love. They called their assignment ‘A dream fulfilled.’ To have the rare privilege of constructing a tipi in the old way, the way it ‘should’ be done—a task their community had last completed in 1887 apparently was reward enough.

At Vore only the hired interpretive staff are paid—admission charged visitors during summer pays their salaries. The buildings and exhibits have been funded through grants and donations. The VBJF took out a loan in 2013 to put up the tipi and drill a well, which allowed them to put in restrooms.

I’m impressed and overwhelmed by their generosity and willingness to go the second mile.

In this day and age we are all too familiar with so-called “non-profits,” launched by well-meaning people, perhaps at the start. But who go on to give themselves impressive titles, paying big salaries to themselves and relatives, making sure that donations pass through their own greedy hands, till there’s almost nothing left for the cause they claim to fight for.

The Vore Jump Foundation is a polar opposite of that. It’s well worth our consideration. Dedicated people like Jackie Wyatt and Gene Gade put in many hours but do not expect or want payment for their talents and work.

For instance, Gene Gade who writes well-researched articles in the VBJT newsletter took the job as County Extension Agent in Sundance Wyoming many years ago.

He must have thought to himself from his County Agent vantage position, “‘I know how to do this; I need to help,’ and put in over 20 years as president of the non-profit VBJ Foundation.

From his great USDA Extension conections he helped to develop and guide the research, education and economic potentials of the Vore site for all those years.

Now in retirement he and his wife moved to Oregon to help a daughter with their grandchildren.

From there he still writes timely articles for the Vore Buffalo Jump Newsletter, continuing to research fresh information.

In Oregon he’s involved in working for Native American causes from a new vantage point from which he says, “The devastation of the Columbia River salmon has been as disastrous to Indigenous people of the northwest as the near extinction of bison was to the Plains tribes.”

And how much is he paid for all this? Don’t be ridiculous.

And there’s Jackie Wyatt. When the Foundation Board was required to build a railing for the trail down to the research sinkhole or be closed down, she made many phone calls and people donated what was needed. Jackie says even a 4th grade class that happened to be there on a field trip emptied their pockets and gave what they could when they heard. Isn’t that cool!

No one is getting wealthy from donations to Vore Buffalo Jump. All funds go into essentials to keep the place running, add improvements and to advance ongoing research at the site. Concerned people just donate more. That’s what is done in rural communities—it is needed and they don’t count the costs.

The Future

The Vore Foundation is actively working to establish permanent facilities with the goal of creating a world-class research, education and cultural center at the Vore Site.

Foundation leaders are quick to point out that because less than 10% of the Vore Buffalo Jump has been excavated “there is potential for decades of scientific research in several different disciplines…archaeology, tribal ethnohistory, zoology, geology, and paleoclimatic studies.

“Dozens of technical papers based on data from the Vore site have already been published. Just as the Black Hills attracted Native Americans, visitors from around the world are fascinated by Plains Indians.”

The Foundation has resolved to save the past for future generations, and we know they will.

However our admission fees and generous donations will help as they continue their research and development of this major archaeological site of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians.

The Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation Research, Education, and Cultural Center project does need our help. Its a true non-profit foundation that counts on donations to meet the financial requirements of their vision for the Vore Buffalo Jump.

They also appreciate Volunteer assistance and ‘in-kind’ contributions.

If you believe in this cause your support is most welcome and certainly needed. (Must admit I support these people who nourish the Vore Jump at least partly because what they are doing is exactly what I’d love to have happen in our own area of historic buffalo sites. Maybe we could build a useful, carefully accurate and active Buffalo Visitors Center that comes off as wonderful and is fully supported by the home folk.)

In rural areas this is the way people mostly get things done—whether fighting fire, running life-saving ambulances or designing tourism projects. Volunteers do what’s needed.

 And for sure, they’re the best kind. Many donations even come in anonymously! Who needs or wants credit for helping do something this good?

 The Vore Site is managed by the 501(c3) non-profit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation (VBJF) board. I can’t help telling them each one is a hero—”You are truly unsung heroes! You get the job done!”

Donations and your comments may be sent to:

Tel: (307) 266-9530

Email: info@vorebuffalojump.org
Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation

369 Old U.S. 14

Sundance, WY 82729



NEXT: The Shrinking Buffalo


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Meat Intake linked to Health and Longer Life

Eating red meat extends your life, scientists say, in a comprehensive new world study published Feb 22 2022 in the International Journal of General Medicine.

Has eating meat become unfairly demonized as bad for your health?

“While detrimental effects of meat consumption on human health have been found in some studies in the past, the methods and findings in these studies are controversial and circumstantial,” says study author Dr. Wenpeng You, University of Adelaide researcher in biomedicine.

“Looking only at correlations of meat consumption with people’s health, or life expectancy within a particular group, or a particular region or country can lead to complex and misleading conclusions.

“We wanted to look more closely at research that has thrown a negative spotlight on meat consumption in the human diet,” Dr. You says. Their study examined the health effects of total meat consumption in 175 countries–approximately 90% of the world.

“Our team broadly analyzed the correlations between meat eating and life expectancy, minimizing the study bias and making our conclusion more representative of the general health effects of meat eating at global and regional levels.”

This study shows that meat intake is positively associated with newborn life expectancy, life expectancy at 5 years of life and adult life expectancy.

In regard to the often praised Mediterranean diet, she says it is worth noting that their studies show countries on the Mediterranean diet have greater life expectancy when there is more total meat in their diet. This may suggest that, regardless of suggested beneficial health effects of Mediterranean diet, more total meat intake may benefit longevity in the populations primarily on this diet.

“The majority of countries bordering Mediterranean Sea are developing economics, and have high mortality rates for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers. The correlation between the Mediterranean diet and low incidence of chronic diseases might be sporadic in the studies in the populations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea because their high mortality rates have eliminated patients with chronic diseases.”

She says humans have evolved and thrived over millions of years because of their significant consumption of meat. The complete nutritional profile of meat and human adaptation to meat eating have enabled humans to gain many physical benefits, including greater life expectancy.
Meat intake, or its adequate replacement, should be incorporated into nutritional science to improve human life expectancy.

“Education is an important contributor to life expectancy similar to caloric consumption, while meat consumption has a significant effect on life expectancy at age 5 years.

“Worldwide, populations with more meat consumption have greater life expectancies,” adds Dr. You.

Meat has advantages over food of plant origin in containing complete protein with all essential amino acids, is rich in vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, and all essential minerals. It has a significant role in maintenance of better physical growth and development, optimal breastfeeding and offspring growth.

The study examined the association between meat intake and life expectancy at a population level based on ecological data published by the United Nations. All required information available was obtained for this study, which looked at total populations rather than selected groups.  

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Vore Buffalo Jump—Part 1

The Vore Buffalo Jump—Part 1

Photo courtesy Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation.

Vore Buffalo Jump in northeastern Wyoming does not involve a cliff at all, but rather, a trap.

It developed when a sinkhole opened up at the western edge of the Black Hills cave system and was used as a jump to trap bison by Native American hunters for about 250 years.

When the hole was first used some 450 years ago, it was 75 feet deep and narrower than now. Today, it is about 50 feet deep and more than 200 feet across.

The buffalo bones are in 22 layers laid down one by one and are regarded by archeologists as the remains of 22 separate hunts that happened from 1559 to about 1800. An average of fewer than one hunt every 10 years. All except two were fall hunts as determined by tooth age of calf skulls found.

By the time homesteaders began to claim land in the area, there was no evidence on the surface of the sinkhole floor that this site had been used as a bison trap. As it did after each hunt, the sinkhole had blown in with silt and grassed over.

Named for the Vore ranching family who donated the land, the jump itself is a large natural sinkhole at the base of a long sloping ravine that opens out into a broad, flat valley.

It is located only 5 miles west of the South Dakota line, not far from Spearfish, SD or Devil’s Tower in northeast Wyoming and directly in the path of Interstate-90, which crosses the nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

An Era of Dramatic Change

The last jump at the Vore site happened sometime between 1770 and 1800. The technique was being made obsolete by the advent of horses and guns.

One of the rare and interesting things about the Vore site is that it lasted only 250 years as a buffalo jump—from 1550 to 1800.

Those were years of dramatic change for Native Americans who lived on the plains. The changes clearly played out and revealed themselves in the research coming from Vore Buffalo

The first walking trail follows the slope in gradual descent into the sinkhole at the bottom. In building below is where the original research began and continues, layer by layer. With permission, courtesy VBJ Foundation.

One of the rare and interesting things about the Vore site is that it lasted only 250 years as a buffalo jump—from 1550 to 1800.

Those were years of dramatic change for Native Americans who lived on the plains. The changes clearly played out and revealed themselves in the research coming from Vore Buffalo Jump.

Before they had horses Native Americans depended on dogs for transporting their goods. Courtesy VBJF.

The era began before the time of horses on the Plains when humans depended on dogs for transportation of their goods. Gradually there came an acceptance of European trade goods such as metal knives and guns that began reaching remote corners of the west.

Then came the flowering of an amazing horse culture that brought Native Americans great freedom of movement and established them as some of the greatest horseback riders the world has ever known.

At the same time, many tribes began moving west where they took up a nomadic lifestyle following herds of buffalo and developing a culture dependent and spiritually interrelated with them.

Thus the Vore jump tells us a great deal about who these people were, where they came from, and how they lived during that time of transition. It is being revealed by cuts in the bones and other evidence found there.

Colorful badlands formations and higher altitude pine-covered hills and rocky ridges enhance the exotic scenery surrounding the Black Hills to the west into Wyoming. Courtesy VBJF.

How the Sinkhole was Used

Buffalo or bison ranged from what is now Canada to Texas when the Vore Site was first used, according to the Vore manual for guides.

At that time the Native Americans way of life on the Great Plains depended on bison. Before Europeans brought the horse to the Americas, they were hunted on foot, a few at a time, or communally by driving the animals into pounds (essentially corrals) or off precipices.

At the Vore Site, the sinkhole was the trap, and bison butchering took place down in the 60-foot hole. The bones of the bison and the stone tools left by the hunters are found in the layers of sediment that make up the sinkhole floor.

“Archaeologists estimate that around 200 people would have come together for a big jump. They would have belonged to one tribe, but the Vore Site was used by a number of different tribes over a period of about 250 years,” says the manual.

“Just to the west of the site would have been good pastures, and about three and a half miles to the east were good camping sites, water and wood, along Sand Creek near what is now the town of Beulah.”

These may have been places where a tribe camped for the longer time needed to dry out the buffalo hides and make jerky and pemmican after a successful hunt.

“In the fall (after the breeding season) bulls would have wandered off and cows and calves split into small herds of 40 to 60 head.

“Late October and early November a tribe would plan a hunt. Runners would go to the far side of a small herd and worry the bison, which caused the smaller herds to gather. The bison thought there was safety in numbers. The large herd, of some 500 or more, would be worked slowly toward the trap.

“There are remnants of drivelines formed by rock cairns (similar to our replicas to the west of the sinkhole) in the pastures southwest of the site that point toward the sinkhole. The lay of the land around this sinkhole made it possible for the hunters to use it as a trap.”

Before the interstate highway changed the area, a draw provided a natural funnel leading into the sinkhole.

Hunters were stationed up along the sides and when the herd was a short distance from the sinkhole, they started a stampede.

If the bison herd was strung out running down the draw, many might have dodged around the trap down below when they came to it.

But with the full mass of bison stampeding and threatened by the sharp horns of those behind, they’d be down in the draw with the hole in front of them before they knew what was happening.

Bringing them narrowly into the hole tested the skill and bravery of hunters who clearly understood buffalo behavior. They had to keep the stampeding herd headed directly into the opening and not allow them to escape to the side. If even a few escaped, likely others would follow.

Then it was easy. Hunters gathered at the rim, shooting with lances or bows and arrows the buffalo down below not killed by the fall.

The sinkhole floor was a place of butchering. A trap with no escape.

The sinkhole was a trap with no escape, but could be dangerous with plunging, dying buffalo. VBJF.

Yet it must have been a dangerous place for hunters who entered the pit filled with dead and injured buffalo.

Then the meat had to be carried up and out or pulled up with hide ropes.

“These hunts happened before the local Native American tribes had horses. The bison had to be cut into pieces small enough to be pulled up and out of the sinkhole.  

“Most likely men did the butchering. The women probably began work in camp right away, tanning hides and stripping and drying the meat. Meat and hides and large bones would have been transported on backs and via dog travois.”

Discovery of Vore Sinkhole

The Vore Buffalo Jump was discovered in 1969 by the Wyoming Highway Department while planning Interstate-90 Highway, according to Ted Vore.

Right-of-way purchased from the Vore Ranch encroached approximately 30 ft. over the edge of the sinkhole.

Highway engineers were concerned about gypsum sinkholes that might affect the stability of the highway and asked permission to build a road down into the sinkhole and drill.

Woodrow Vore, Ted’s father, suggested they drill up where the road was to be as gypsum sinks could be anywhere.

They trespassed anyway, bulldozed a crude road into the sinkhole, and sent a truck with an auger to check out its floor.

Wherever they punched a hole, they encountered buffalo bones within a few feet of the surface. Clearly this was an archaeological site, but the construction leaders would have preferred to keep quiet about the discovery and continue building the highway as planned.

Wherever they punched a hole the engineers brought up buffalo bones close to the surface. Cross trenches were dug to a variety of depths and investigated. VBJF.

However, an engineer on the crew blew the whistle and contacted George Frison, who at that time was a professor at the University of Wyoming, later to become Wyoming State Archaeologist, reportedly bringing with him a box of buffalo bones from the site.

Frison went to the Wyoming Department of Transportation and convinced them the site must be investigated. The story told is that Frison dumped the box of bones on the DOT director’s desk.

As he hoped, the decision was made to move I-90 a few hundred feet south and do an archaeological survey of the sinkhole.

Frison received permission from the Vores to excavate the bottom of the sinkhole to find the extent of the bone bed. During the summers of 1971 and 1972, excavations by Frison, his staff and students discovered that the bone bed covered the entire floor of the sink hole.

These first archaeologists also dug a shaft that went down about 25 feet. They discovered 22 layers of bones—each the remains of a single jump.

The Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation was locally formed as a vehicle to help the University in site development.

Unfortunately, you can no longer see the bones they dug up. When they left in 1972 they back-filled the trenches and shaft to protect the remaining artifacts. As they left, the team took about 4 tons of bones and many stone tools with them to the U of Wyoming to study.

In the fall of 1989, the Vores deeded the site to the University to be developed as strictly an education and research facility. The University was given 12 years to develop the site and open it to the public.

In the 12 years the University conducted studies and used the site for archaeology field school activities. However, they made no progress toward opening the site to public viewing. The excavation was covered up and nothing more was done.

Working the bones. Excavation work resumed in 1995. Crew includes archaeologists, students and volunteers. VBJF.

Since the University did not meet the deed restriction of 12 years, the site was deeded back to the Vore Ranch and immediately deeded to the Foundation.

Excavation work began again at the Vore Jump site in 1995. The bones seen in open excavation units are from hunts that occurred from the mid to late 1700s—in other words, the most recently butchered.

The first hunt at Vore was in 1559, according to the experts. It is still deeply underground.

What caused the Sinkhole?

“To understand Black Hills geology generally and the Vore site sinkhole specifically, one needs to understand some properties of gypsum and limestone,” write Megan Schnorenberg and Gene Gade in their article ‘Geology of the Vore Buffalo Jump.’

We do not know when the Vore Site sinkhole formed but it was presumably hundreds of years before it was first used as a bison trap. Sinkholes result from the collapse of the roof of a cave formed in the underlying rocks.

Throughout the Black Hills rocks such as limestone or gypsum are dissolved by ground water to form caves. Both these types of rock are visible here at the Vore.

Sinkholes may be dry, as is the case at the Vore Site, or filled with water as observed a few miles to the east in South Dakota at the McNenney Fish Hatchery at Mirror Lake.

At Hot Springs, in the southern Black Hills, a sinkhole in the Spearfish Formation was the spectacular death scene for over 60 mammoths and is now the Mammoth Site and Museum, a popular tourist destination.

The formation of the sinkhole is related and similar to the caves that are interconnected throughout the Black Hills. Some have water and springs; some are dry.

Gypsum and limestone have in common the fact that both contain positively charged calcium ions. They differ in that the predominate negative ion in gypsum is sulfate (SO4) while the negative ion in limestone is carbonate (CO3). Both gypsum and limestone are somewhat soluble in water, but water can only hold a certain amount of either of them in solution. Gypsum is more soluble than limestone so gypsum usually dissolves first when they are in water together, according to the authors.

The opposite is true when they settle out of the water solution or ‘precipitate’ back into a solid—i.e. lime will precipitate before gypsum. Both are less soluble than some other compounds that are commonly dissolved in water, such as table salt (sodium chloride or NaCl).

When a body of water that contains all three compounds starts to evaporate (as in a shallow sea, desert lake or swamp), lime will precipitate into a solid first, then gypsum and, finally, salt.

If water returns the system later, they’ll generally dissolve in the opposite order . . . salt first, then gypsum, then limestone.

In the Black Hills, the Madison Formation formed from shells and dissolved calcium carbonate precipitated out of an ancient shallow sea, forming limestone. However, within the limestone, were lenses of gypsum.

Over time, cracks formed in the limestone and gypsum layer. Groundwater filled the cracks. The gypsum dissolved away leaving cavities in the limestone.

Additional water, combined with organic acids the water picked up as it soaked into the ground and percolated into fissures in the rock, dissolved some of the limestone.

The result is some of the largest caves in the world. Wind Cave in the Black Hills is not only one of the longest cave systems in the world—140 miles explored, the sixth longest cave—and is also the most dense (passages per mile) in the world.

Wind Cave has 95% of the world’s discovered boxwork rock formations, which are thin blades of calcite that project from the cave walls or ceilings. It is a sacred site for the Lakota people, as creation stories say this is where their people emerged from the earth, according to the Black Hills Visitor.

Jewel Cave has 132 miles surveyed and is also one of the world’s longest.

“About 60 million years ago, igneous (molten) rock pushed up and formed the bulge that ultimately became the Black Hills. During this uplift, the overlying sedimentary rocks (limestones, sandstones, shales, etc.) were tilted up.

“Eventually most of these overlying sedimentary rocks eroded away from the highest points in the Hills, leaving the granite core exposed in places like Terry and Harney Peaks.

“Erosion exposed the no-longer horizontal sedimentary layers around its flanks. These exposed sedimentary rocks on the so-called ‘limestone plateau’ are now the primary ‘recharge areas’ where water enters formations like the Pahasapa-Madison and Minnelusa Limestone formations.

Each building houses exhibits on the hunters who used the site, how they jumped the buffalo and used the meat and hides. And the dogs that traveled with them. VBJF.

“Once in the rocks, the water flows downhill through fissures creating considerable gravitational pressure on this groundwater at lower elevations around the base of the Black Hills.

“Due to pressure, water from underground aquifers will flow upward into overlying strata if it can. If the water reaches the surface, the water will form a spring or artesian well, thus relieving the pressure.

“Major springs such as those that create Sand Creek (a perennial stream 3 miles east of Vore Jump) are an example. However, if, on its path to the surface, the pressurized groundwater passes through rock that is particularly soluble, a cave may form.

“That is exactly what the current theory suggests in the Vore Buffalo Jump sinkhole. U.S. Geological Survey geologist, Dr. Jack B. Epstein, who has been studying the Spearfish Formation sinkholes believes that the Vore Buffalo Jump sinkhole did not result from a collapse directly into a large cave in the underlying limestone.”

Rather, says Epstein, pressurized water in the tilted limestones rose through fissures until it reached the soluble gypsum at the base of the Spearfish formation.

“The gypsum dissolved, creating a solution cavern near the surface. The overlying ‘red bed’ sediments then collapsed at points into the void where the gypsum used to be, creating the Vore site sinkhole and others (such as the one just north and west of it).

“If the bottom of the new sinkhole is above the ‘potentiometric surface,’ (the level to which water in an aquifer would rise due to the natural pressure in the rocks), then the sinkhole is dry, if not, the sinkhole will contain a spring.”

“The sinkhole which is the focus of the Vore Buffalo Jump is surrounded by several gypsum beds, each 8-10 feet thick.

“Although no gypsum is present in the current bottom of the sinkhole, gypsum veinlets can be seen in the walls of the sinkhole, and are probably a result of the expansion of the gypsum and fracturing of the surrounding rock.

“The layers of bone which are found to extend 20 feet below what is now the natural bottom of the sinkhole indicate that sediment was rapidly deposited over the 300-year use of the sinkhole,” Gade and Schnorenberg report.

The Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation

All buildings and development of the site today has come through the efforts of the VBJ Foundation.

Three buildings currently make up the Vore Site. A small cabin serves as a place to greet visitors. The tipi on the sinkhole rim houses exhibits and restrooms.

The building on the sinkhole floor covers open excavation units where the work continues. Each building houses exhibits on the hunters who used the site, how they jumped the buffalo and used the meat and hides and the dogs that traveled with them.

Visitors see bones, not fossils. The floor is a work in progress, ongoing active excavations. VBJF.

What visitors see are bones, not fossils. This is not a museum exhibit but an active excavation. The bones in the unit on the southwest corner are from the very last hunt at the Vore Site and are about 250 years old.

This is essentially the garbage left behind after the butchering was completed.

“The Vore Site is managed by the 501(c)(3) non-profit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation (VBJF) board. All board members are volunteers,” according to their website www.VoreBuffaloJump.org

“We have virtually no administrative costs. The admission charged visitors during the summer season pays the salaries of the interpretive staff. The buildings and exhibits have been funded through grants and donations.

“The VBJF took out a loan in 2013 to put up the tipi and drill a well, which allowed us to put in restrooms.

The Vore Site is open to visitors in summer (June 1-Labor Day) and off-season to school field trips by appointment. VBJF.

“The Vore Site is open to visitors from June 1 through Labor Day (8 am to 6 pm). The off-season field trip program hosts about 1000 students each year.”

(Based on information from the Vore Buffalo Jump website www.VoreBuffaloJump.org, the VBJF Interpreters manual and articles by Gene Gade. With permission from Gade and the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation.


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

8th White Bison born to Herd at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

8th White Bison born to Herd at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

With a new white bison calf joining the herd in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, community members say it’s a sign to get back to living in balance with nature.

 The calf born on April 16 is the eighth white bison to be born on the First Nation in as many years. They are part of a herd of 104 bison in the community about 40 kilometres west of Brandon, Manitoba.  

 “The white buffalo is a blessing and a warning for our people, not just Native people but all people,” said Kevin Tacan, one of the community’s spiritual advisors, whose family also takes care of the herd.

 Tacan said climate change is noticeable not only to us, but to animals as well

 “They’re starting to come back, reminding us that we’re supposed to be living in balance with nature,” he said.

 “We’re supposed to be living in balance with the animals and the natural world, and we’re not doing that.”

 Tacan said First Nations have a special relationship with bison.

 “We have a very close, spiritual relationship with the buffalo, because we both experienced genocide,” he said.

 “And right now we’re getting our apologies from governments, but there are no apologies coming for the buffalo herd yet, and it’s something we’d like to see down the road.” 

He said the bison are there for community members and other folks who come and pray. 

“They pray for relatives who are sick or who are struggling in life with addictions or anything like that,” he said.

“They’re all different tribes that are coming here and doing their ceremonies here.”

Tobacco offerings tied in colourful fabrics line the fence, left by previous visitors. 

“The buffalo would come and check them out, and listen to their prayers and then hopefully they’ll carry our prayers for the year, so that we can live a healthier, happier life,” said Tacan. 

Keeping the herd wild

Tony Tacan, Kevin’s brother, is the community herd rancher, and a council member.

He said this is the second bison herd they started after being given a white bison by the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg in 2010. 

His family takes care of the bison, along with their horses. 

“We took the responsibility on for the community, to ensure that they’re fed, watered, cared for,” said Tony Tacan. 

“We’ve been doing that for so many years now.”

He said his brothers and cousins help out, along with his sons and nephews. 

“We expect to keep them wild, we don’t want to domesticate them,” he said.

“That’s not the way of our people.” 

Tony Tacan said there will be upcoming changes to the area, with a cement pad created for the elders’ handi-van, and signs on the main road directing people to the compound. A space for gatherings is also in the works. 

“We make sure we have a place for people to come and pray; it offers people hope,” he said.

“Times being what they are, we need them to come here and feel better.” 

(From The CBC)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Body Condition Scoring Guide for Bison

Body Condition Scoring Guide for Bison

Canada has developed detailed national guidelines or Codes for the care and handling of farm animals, including bison and poultry. The Codes serve as the national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices.

The writers of these codes come together from a wide background of experience in studying and handling specific animals. They meet together and make decisions on what Canadian recommendations should be for each species.

Roy Lewis, DVM, is a veterinarian who served on the committee for the updated 2017 Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison. The decision makers of these codes come from a wide background of experience in studying and handling buffalo.

Dr Roy Lewis, an Alberta veterinarian who has worked with bison many years and served on the committee updating the National Canadian “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison,” sent me links to the Canadian bison codes.

He is also helping plan the International Bison Convention to be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, July 12-15, 2022, and has served as a part-time technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison was released in 2001 and updated in 2017. In Canada, scoring bison in your herd is considered an important management tool that allows ranchers to monitor and evaluate their feeding programs—and to adjust as needed.

The following comes from Appendix C of the Canadian code which discusses Body Condition Scoring. Much of this is adapted from What’s the Score: BisonBody Condition Scoring Guide from Alberta Agriculture.

Bison Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a method of assessing the amount of fat cover on an animal, Since hands-on examination is impractical with bison the 5 point system for bison uses primarily visual clues.

The BCS system is a 5-point scale where a score of 1 means that the animal is extremely thin or emaciated and a score of 5 means that the animal is very fat. 

Bison’s nutritional requirements and feed intake vary with day length/season

A certain amount of weight loss is expected over the winter months. However, to accommodate this winter weight loss, bison need to be in good condition in the fall. Adult bison should not lose more than 1 to 1.5 body condition score during the winter feeding.

This table outlines target BCS for different classes of bison at different times of the year, generally scoring 3 to 5.

Table C.1 – Seasonal body condition score targets for breeding herds1

There are several features of bison anatomy that make condition scoring bison different from scoring cattle. Special attention is given to the hip bones, rump and hump.  

Body condition scoring should be performed using a consistent procedure by an experienced person or one who has been mentored in the process. Evaluate the key landmarks of the hump, ribs, spine, hip bones, rump and tail head, and then take in the overall appearance of the animal.

Consider factors such as hair coat and the animal’s age, and then record the score on a 1 to 5 scale; half points (2.5/5) or a range (2–3/5) may be used, especially if the scoring is visual only.

All animals should be evaluated and scored if possible, or if that is impractical, a large cross-section of each class of animal in the herd should be scored. Determine the average for each class and note any particularly thin or fat animals.

Adjust feeding and management as necessary in order to meet BCS targets and take corrective action for individuals outside of the target ranges. 

What’s the Score?

BODY CONDITION SCORING CAN HELP BISON producers manage their herd for optimal health, production, and profitability. Body condition refers to the amount of fat that an animal is carrying. Body condition scoring is designed to estimate the amount the fat the animal has. It is a useful management tool that helps farmers and ranchers do a better job feeding their stock.


THE FIRST BODY CONDITION SCORING SYSTEM was developed for sheep because producers could not determine how fat or thin a ewe was when she was in fleece. The manual palpation method for determining BCS was developed to overcome this problem. This system was later adapted for use with beef and dairy cattle and later for bison.

The system presented for bison in this article has been adapted from the beef and dairy cattle 5 point scale. A body condition score (BCS) of 1 indicates that the animal is very thin. A BCS of 5 indicates that it is very fat. Since bison are seldom caught in a squeeze to allow a “hands on” body condition scoring system, most of the criteria used to assess the animal are visual clues.

While learning how to body condition score bison, it is helpful to feel the bison in a squeeze so that you can feel what you think you are seeing under their thick hair coat. Once a person is experienced in scoring bison, visual clues are adequate.


IDEAL CONDITION SCORE DEPENDS ON THE TIME of year. Over the different seasons of a year it is normal for a bison’s weight and body condition score to fluctuate. Most people aim to have their bison fat in the fall so that they do not require as much feed over the winter.

Most experienced producers aim to have their bison lean in the spring because excess fat may lead to calving problems. By the beginning of breeding season, the cows should be back to a moderate to good body condition to ensure optimal conceptions rates.


November 4 3-4+

April 2+ 2-3

July 3+ 3-3+

By knowing your herd’s body condition score, you can adjust your feeding to meet the above targets. If the animals are too thin, increasing the amount or quality of feed and supplements will increase their body condition score. If the animals are too fat, the opposite is possible and money can be saved in the winter feed bill.

One must be aware that any change in BCS should be gradual as rapid changes, either up or down, can cause health problems.

Rapid weight loss in fat bison can precipitate a disease called “Fatty Liver Syndrome” and cause death. Rapid weight gains on grain diets are possible but this type of diet can cause digestive upsets and may cause death as well.


IN BISON, ONE UNIT OF BCS IS ROUGHLY EQUIVALENT TO 90 pounds of live tissue weight. The approximate composition of this tissue would be 70% fat, 24% water, 6% protein and 1% mineral (adapted from dairy cow research by Otto and co-workers, 1991).


EXPERIENCE INDICATES THAT COWS THAT ARE too fat at calving (BCS >4), were more prone to reproductive diseases such as difficult calving than cows with lower BCS. Cows that are thin (BCS<2) experience reduced fertility.


There is variation between animals in how they deposit fat. Factors such as age, sex, subspecies differences, and even individual animal variation will affect the score that they exhibit at each of the scoring areas of the body. By scoring several areas and averaging the scores we get a much more accurate overall body condition score for the animal than just using one area. For example an old bison cow may look like a BCS of 2 when looking at her ribs but the other areas indicate that she is a 3. This cow would get an overall score of 3. The table can be used to score bison in the field.

OFTEN AN ANIMAL BEING EVALUATED DOES NOT meet the exact criteria of a given BCS but falls somewhere between 2 scores. The evaluator can assign them a value with a “+” sign which indicates that they are slightly more than the score given but not at the level of the next score. For example a cow scoring between a BCS of 2 and a BCS of 3 may be scored as a BCS 2+.

For further information about Body Condition Scoring see What’s the Score? Body Condition Scoring for Livestock DVD and PDF materials (available from Alberta Agriculture at: www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app08/ppsropintheweb?PubID=100031). 

Dr. Lewis comments

Of course, after studying all this, I had a few more questions for Roy Lewis, DVM, and of course he has more points to make. He’s a believer in this.

How hard is it to learn how to score—are most bison ranchers able to figure it out?

“With bison we’re usually looking at various spots over the animal tail head and transverse processes on the spine, at a distance, so we get a pretty accurate but a rougher idea than with cattle. Bison always look thinner than cattle and that is fine.”

Should the herd score similarly or is there a wide variation in conditioning between the best and worst even in one herd?

“As with any herd we’re always going to get variation–some a little over-fat, some a little thinner but we hit for the average. The thinner ones could indicate clinical disease, age or being low on the pecking order.”

What about those big shedding sheets of hair that hang on many buffalo for so much of the summer—don’t they get in the way of seeing what’s going on? 

“The shed is an interesting one but for those that have still a massive sheet into the summer there is something wrong, such as parasites or malnutrition.

“For example in the Code 1 under Body Condition the lower right-hand picture was one of a heavily parasitized bison yearling of a client. You can see the shed is still pretty much intact in June. This person was losing bison to parasitism and once they cleared that up and the shed was removed they were slick and pretty easy to body condition score.“

How about owners who might be sensitive about how their animals rate? Do they really want to know if it’s not so great?

“Owners should have no issue rating their bison because this is helping them see how their feed program is working. Body condition will hurt the performance, but also the reproductive rate, so it definitely affects profitability.

“Bison will look after themselves,” Dr Lewis concludes. “But if feed is short we need to supplement.” 


Make a chart with the following headings:


TAG #              RIBS        SPINE        HIB BONE     TAIL HEAD        HUMP           OVERALL

Assign score (1-5) to each body area for each animal. Then average numbers for an overall score for each animal.

1Adapted from What’s the Score: Bison – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-bison.pdf.  

2Adapted from What’s the Score: Beef Cow – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-beef-cow.pdf.

3Adapted from Haigh J. & Grinde J. (2007) Reproductive management of bison. In: Current Therapy in Large Animal Theriogenology. 2nd ed. Eds. R. Youngquist & W. Threlfall. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier, pp. 1005–1011.

4Line drawings and written BCS descriptions for the remainder of the section adapted from What’s the Score: Bison – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-bison.pdf.

Courtesy of National Canadian Codes of Practice.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Mycoplasma Bovis Fact Sheet — May 2022

2021 Case Count: 21 herds with confirmed cases in 10 states, according to the Mycoplasma Task Force with the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies at South Dakota State University.

 Disclaimer: The National Bison Association assumes no responsibility for the below content, provided for informational purposes only. This content is based solely on anecdotal information from volunteers in the bison industry who have experienced losses due to Mycoplasma bovis as the science of M. bovis in bison advances. 

 Conditions That May Cause Incidents of M. bovis 

  • Drought, poor pasture and water conditions.
  • Crowded, dusty, high-stress environments.
  • Excessive wildfire smoke.
  • Any type of stress — environmental, nutritional, behavioral, etc.
  • Parasite loads or other causes for a depressed immune system.

 Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms may depend on the primary type of infection. The two most common areas of infection will occur in the throat (upper respiratory) or lungs (lower respiratory). The animal can be infected in both places, but the early symptoms appear different depending on the primary infection site but usually include coughing, sneezing, or runny nose. In some cases, the primary site is localized to leg joints, uterine tissue, mammary system, eyes, and other places, but these outbreaks seem less common. Symptoms may also be systemic and appear widespread in the animal’s systems upon necropsy.

 Animals will tend to separate themselves from the herd.

  • General lethargy is common.
  • Poor posture — animals will appear uncomfortable and humped up.
  • Dull eyes — “40-yard stare”. Animals may appear introspective and have no interest in surroundings or other animals.
  • The throat area may appear swollen, and animals may extend their neck to help increase air intake. Difficulty breathing may be apparent.
  • Animals don’t move willingly. If they move, you may observe a jerky gate or “short stepping” in the front legs, a possible result of lungs adhering to the ribcage, so the animal doesn’t want to take big steps with front legs. Joints may appear swollen, thus making moving painful and difficult. Additionally, animals are slow to move, limping and guarding extremities, usually from severe arthritic pain.
  • Noticeable swelling and weeping around eyes/orbital sockets.
  • Thick pus may be observed in the corner of the eyes.
  • Pacing, or walking by moving the feet on the same side instead of the normal four-beat alternating gait.

Management Suggestions

  • Use caution when bringing in new animals, especially if the new arrivals are from an open herd. If possible, isolate new animals for a quarantine period (e.g., 30-days) before introducing them into the herd.
  • After identifying suspect symptoms, separate infected animals from the herd as quickly as possible. Try to maintain a 100-yard minimum distance from healthy animals, ideally downwind.
  • Keep animals out of dusty or wet conditions whenever possible.
  • Limit stress on the animals. Keep hay and water within reach and consider providing ample free choice or lick-block minerals.
  • Slaughter is a reasonable option — rapid euthanasia can help prevent the spread to other animals. If this choice is made, the earlier it’s done, the better, and if harvesting for meat, the sooner, the better to increase salvage value.

Action Plans 

  • Autogenous vaccines are available, but strain mutation, outbreaks in vaccinated herds, and poor etiology understanding have raised vaccine efficacy questions. While vaccination with an autogenous Mycoplasma vaccine won’t harm animals, understand that it may or may not be effective. 
  • Consult with your veterinarian as needed to perform a necropsy on deceased animals and collect samples to send in for analysis so the strain of M. bovis can be identified and documented.
  • Document all cases in your herd through photographs, dates, weather and management conditions, and necropsy results.
  • Please fill out the Mycoplasma Anecdotal Interview, available here, and return it to Karen@bisoncentral.com. All information you provide is kept confidential. Interviews and other information will be shared with the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies for compilation in their reports and research.

Any U.S. affected producers may be eligible for financial assistance for animals lost to M. bovis. Please visit the USDA’s livestock Indemnification Program to learn more: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/livestock-indemnity/index or Farmers.gov recovery resources: https://www.farmers.gov/protection-recovery.

Please note, this information will be formatted into a more substantial fact sheet with graphics and distributed to the membership shortly.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Teachers: Do you remember what you did last summer?

Teachers: Do you remember what you did last summer?

Summers are busy for all of us—and all too short with lots to do. As a teacher you may be trying to crowd in all the trips and events you missed the last 2 years.

One thing we can absolutely guarantee, if you come to southwest North Dakota for the BSC Dakota Bison Tour it will be a field trip you’ll never forget!

We’re sending out a special appeal to you who are teachers—because this entire BSC Bison Symposium is planned especially for you. It brings you the ammunition you need to tell the full Dakota buffalo story—at its most fascinating. And for good measure, it brings you right into the middle of a large buffalo herd.

This is a 3-day Buffalo Event that will enrich Teachers:

Bismarck State College’s Dakota Bison Symposium, June 23-25

Register now: call 701-224-5600 or visit


An opportunity to learn about our National Mammal, the American Bison—past, present and future—through presentations, panel discussions, film, art, tours, exhibits, Native America music and dancing culinary arts, and a tour of authentic buffalo historic sites.

Here are 3 reasons for you to come on tour to southwest North Dakota—Friday, June 24:

  1. It’s a day you’ll never forget
  2. You’ll never look at buffalo the same again
  3. When you teach Buffalo and early Native American life in our state you’ll have tremendous stories to tell—and the resources to do it well.

We Made a Trial Run

One beautiful morning last summer Loren Luckow and I met Larry Skogen and Erik Holland—leaders of our BSC Bison Symposium planning committee from Bismarck—at the historic Kokomo in Lemmon SD.

Inside the Kokomo are John Lopez’s fighting full size bison bulls made from spare parts. And other sculped gems.

We’ll grab a quick take before heading out on buses to briefly circle the Petrified Park. Then on to Shadehill Buffalo Jump.

Larry Skogen is a hometown educator who spent his career as President of Bismarck State College in Bismarck. Then he retired and suddenly had plenty of enthusiasm and time (we remind him!) to help plan this Symposium.

Erik Holland is an educator too. In fact, Curator of Education at the North Dakota State Historical Society. The system in our state is that the Historical Society does North Dakota curriculum material for schools, and teachers can use what they want, as they think best for their own classes. Especially for 4th and 8th grades, and on to advanced classes in High School and College.

Together we took a day-long trial run—the 4 of us—just to see how long it would take at each stop and how feasible the whole Dakota Bison Symposium tour would be with maybe 2 or 3 buses filled with visitors.

Of course I wanted to show our visitors everything we have here!

But I’ve had some experience with my own family—kids and grandkids.

They all love to go out and see some of our Buffalo sites! But “some” is relative. They get tired of hiking over the hills—especially if it’s hot, or cold or really windy.

And when we stop for a picnic, they’re usually done. They pretty much want to stay in one place for awhile—or go home.

This is truly a unique place where we live—and especially the buffalo heritage. My husband Bert, a veterinarian thought so too. He enjoyed working buffalo herds.

But whenever I’d say “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a few buffalo? We have such a nice pasture right here at the edge of town. People would love to see them.”

He’d just shake his head; “Too hard on fences.” Then he’d quickly change the subject. He didn’t even want to talk about it.

In introducing you to our southwest region of North Dakota, I would love to show you many, many things. How about this:

The US Forest Service pasture in this photo shows buttes and badlands of the North Grand River in what we call Sitting Bull’s Last Stand. He and his hunting band from near Mobridge came and in two days—October 12 and 13, 1883—killed the very last great wild herd. About 1,200 buffalo in all.

 In his 1899 book “The Extermination of the American Bison,” William Hornaday wrote, “There was not a hoof left. That wound up the buffalo in the Far West. Only a stray bull being seen here and there afterwards.” In this photo you see a special group of visiting Buckskinners. We’ve led many tours here. It’s also been called the Butchering Site because the early settlers found so many bison skulls and bones here.

A beautiful, higher-altitude outcropping of rocky hills, the pine-covered Slim Buttes are a delightful place for hiking, camping and picnicking.

One of the last great hunts was here too. A hunting party of about 100—mostly the Lakota Dupree family, their relatives and friends came here near Christmas in 1880, hunted buffalo for 3 months in an extremely cold and snowy winter, as described by the missionary Thomas Riggs, invited along.

They killed some 2,000 buffalo and took home over 500 prime hides.

The Battle of Slim Buttes was launched when survivors from the Battle of the Little Big Horn under Chief American Horse camped here overnight on their way back to the Black Hills and were attacked by remnants of General Crook’s branch of the US army on Sept 9 and 10, 1876.

This horseshoe bend in the South Grand River is where we think the Native American Dupree family might have come over the horizon (at center left in this photo) in their horse-drawn buckboard with a few outriders to rescue calves that next spring after their winter hunt—in 1881 or 1882.

They became internationally famous for being one of the 5 family groups who saved the buffalo. Imagine them finding a herd of buffalo grazing here—drinking and resting among the big old cottonwood trees. Photo by FM Berg.

The last of the great wild buffalo herds came here around Christmas 1880 to the relative safety of what was then the Great Sioux Indian Reservation. They were in flight from white hide hunters armed with big guns who cut across the corner of Montana coming north and east in pursuit.

Instead of crossing the Yellowstone River, this half—about 50,000 in all—came east into the Great Sioux Reservation. The other half crossed the Yellowstone, then fled north into the waiting guns of hoards of white and Native hunters and were soon slaughtered. For nearly 3 years these last buffalo survived—longer than anywhere else. Native elders said they came to care for their Lakota brothers and sisters before the white hunters killed them all.

The Blacktail Trail in US Forest Service Pasture 9 offers a small lake stocked with bass, with fishing dock, picnic area and most dramatic of all—a 7-mile walking loop through rugged badlands, gumbo buttes and fascinating rock and gumbo formations. Photo FM Berg.

At the trailhead hikers hold open a spring-loaded gate designed to close itself—preventing cattle from invading the picnic site. FMB.

The Blacktail Trail offers a nice place to consider the complex relationship between the buffalo and Native people who lived here—from being a source of food to a font of social and cultural inspiration and connection to spiritual life. Native Americans honor the buffalo as sacred in ceremonies, stories, artwork, song and dance. FMB.

Blacktail Trail winds through rugged badlands and buttes to a hilltop blooming with wild flowers juniper trees and sagebrush. Many traditional Native stories of this land speak to the mystery of the origin of life. A common belief held by many Plains tribes is of the creation of humans and buffalo emerging from a cave or hole in the ground. FMB.

Here’s our agenda for the Friday, June 24 Field Trip:

7:15 am Check-in, Bus Assignments
7:45 am Buses Depart BSC

When you ride the bus you’ll hear buffalo tales and lore told by our local bus hosts: Ceil Anne Clement, Val Braun (both former teachers) and John Joyce, MD (retired doc and self-taught historian).

We hope also to have some Native Americans telling cultural buffalo traditions and stories along the way. Photo by Ronda Fink.

9:00 am Kokomo Sculpture Gallery, Lemmon, SD (single-day visitors meet buses here)

Inside the Kokomo Inn are John Lopez’s world-famous sculptures designed from spare parts. We’ll take a look at the buffalo and other treasures before heading out to briefly circle the Petrified Park in the buses. Then on to Shadehill Buffalo Jump. Photo credit John Lopez.

Shadehill Buffalo Jump    

One of our first stops is to view the authentic buffalo jump at Shadehill from across the lake on the north side.

It’s been authenticated as an ancient jump by three separate archaeological teams including the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks. Photo by Vince Gunn.

11:45 am Lunch, Shadehill Recreation Area

Johnson Buffalo Herd, Jim Strand Manager

Jim Strand takes a break in the Shadehill, South Dakota, pasture with Hoolie his saddlehorse to chat with Billy Bob, his latest bottle calf. Jim is manager of the 400-cow Blair Johnson buffalo herd. Photo credit Donna Keller.

On the trial run we stopped to visit Jim Strand’s live buffalo herd and drove among them, while Jim circled them with the feed wagon, which the buffalo knew brought a tasty snack. They came running over the hill—the bulls grunting and groaning in their own way. Photo by RF.

Larry and Erik said they loved being in the middle of the buffalo herd. Our visitors always do. In our tours we’ve found that’s a favorite—whether local old timers or tourists from afar—as long as they know they’re safe. Staying on the bus with the windows open for shooting great photos and videos to their hearts content! Photo RF.

Being in the midst of it gave the historians a chance to watch individual cows, bulls and calves close-up. Red dogs are what forest rangers call these young bison calves that are still cinnamon colored. They dazzle in the sun. By about 3 months of age the hump and nubbin horns begin to appear and their coats change to dark brown or black like their moms. Photo RF.

Hiddenwood Hunt Historic Site 

Our historic site at Hiddenwood on US Highway 12 halfway between Hettinger and Lemmon honors the June 1882 hunt in this wide valley. At that time 2,000 men, women and children travelled here from Ft. Yates and over 3 days killed 5,000 buffalo. Their Indian Agent James McLaughlin came along and described that hunt in detail in his memoirs. Photo FMB.

One of the signs at Hiddenwood explains 2 major historical events that happened here.

In 1874, Lt. Col George Custer and his 7th Cavalry camped here on their expedition to check out claims of gold in the Black Hills. A few years later, in 1882, one of the last great buffalo hunts took place at Hiddenwood.

For each event about 2,000 people camped here. For hundreds and thousands of years this was a famous campground for many plains tribes hunting buffalo. Photo FMB.

Last Stand–The Sitting Bull Hunt

This is where the American buffalo made their last stand—in this remote and beautiful valley of the North Grand River and others like it within a radius of perhaps 30 or 40 miles. These US Forest Service lands look much as they did 150 years ago when it was home to the last wild buffalo herds.

In the distance you see long ridges stretching across the horizon from east to west in waves, each wave a long divide of peaks, plateaus and flat-topped buttes splashed with shades of violet, lavender and blue. Each successive wave a paler shade as it recedes into the background.

A reporter riding through here with Custer declared he could see “no less than 40 miles.” He wrote, “The view is fine indeed . . . The well-defined, sharpened lines projected on the sky by rolling prairies and distant buttes is marvelous beyond expression and can never be appreciated unless actually seen.” Photo credit Kendra Rosencrans.

We know the dates and successes when Sitting Bull and his hunting party came here and killed the last great wild herd—1,200 buffalo died on October 16 and 17, 1883.

We don’t know precisely where, but it was certainly here or within a few miles of this place. Early settlers called this the Butchering Site, because of the many buffalo skulls and bones lying around.

Leg bones like these, found here, had invariably been smashed open to extract bone marrow. Photo FMB.

5:30 Dakota Buttes Museum (Hettinger)

Did Larry and Erik want to see more buffalo sites? “It’s just enough. Not too much!” they said.  So we headed to the Dakota Buttes Museum to see Prairie Thunder first of all—our full-mount buffalo bull, donated by a local Bison rancher.

He was shot by a hunter who won the raffle to shoot it in the coldest week of January when the hide was at its best. Photo Dakota Buttes Museum, by Joel Janikowski.

You will finish off your BSC Dakota Bison Symposium tour in the Dakota Buttes Museum with a delicious buffalo dinner the evening of Friday June 24. Then back on the bus for your ride back to Bismarck. Photo Credit Melissa Lewis.

Sign up and Resources

More info from Erik Holland—What’s the follow-up?

“One of the pieces in getting graduate credit is for teachers to write a couple of pages in a very personal way about the material and how they plan to use it in their classes,” Holland says. “How they can think about the experiences they’ve had and what they are getting out of this. Each in your own way that connects all this.”

If you want Grad Credit:

    1. Sign up online with University of Mary at https://bscdakotabison.com/register/graduatecredit/), cost $45
    2. Attend the entire conference
    3. Write a short essay describing how materials and experiences of the BSC Bison Symposium will help you and your students get familiar with America’s National Mammal while aligned with the North Dakota Social Studies Standards
    4. Submit your essay to Erik Holland, Teacher of Record (701-328-2792) email eholland@nd.gov His office is in the ND Heritage Center and State Museum (https://statemuseum.nd.gov) and part of his duties relate to North Dakota social studies curriculum available at (https://NDStudies.gov)

You’ll go home with plenty of resources:

Our Dakota Buttes Visitors Council 88-page book, “Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes: Self-Guided Tour” which I wrote in 2017 gives information on the 8 historic and contemporary bison tour sites in our area. Plus to complete anything we might have missed, we suggest you visit Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation and the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND.

In addition you’ll have lots of brochures, videos and movies available to borrow or buy and access to online learning and curriculum sites. From all this you choose what you deem most valuable for your classes. Store the rest for later or for student research as opportunities arise.

You’ll have the resources you need to revisit these places and buffalo in your own community with knowledge you’ve never had before.

Holland has another idea: “Teachers who bring their own children to the symposium can think about ways to engage them in presenting the buffalo—and related Native American—experiences to their classes.”

He says the topics presented over the course of three days will provide information that can be used to align class materials with all social studies standards as directed by North Dakota Century Code 15.1-21-01: North Dakota Studies course requires that each ND public and nonpublic elementary and middle school provide students instruction in North Dakota studies, with an emphasis on the geography, history and agriculture of the state in the fourth and eighth grades.

“This event is a continuation of BSC’s work to bring humanities to the entire community,” Larry Skogen, BSC President Emeritius added. “We have a lot of really good partners in this event including the BSC Foundation, Indigenized Energy, NATIVE Inc, the State Historical Society of ND, and the Rockstad Foundation.”

We who made the trial run hope our timing that summer day was just right. Enough, and not too much.

Loren and I hope you’ll come back again. Bring your family, relatives and friends, to enjoy what you didn’t get to see this time!



Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

1st 2022 bison born at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

1st 2022 bison born at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

(From 9 News)

COMMERCE CITY, Colo — Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMA) has a new resident.

The first bison calf of the season has been born at the Commerce City wildlife refuge.

Located ten minutes from downtown Denver, RMA is home to a herd of more than two dozen bison as well as deer, raptors, songbirds, waterfowl, prairie dogs and coyotes.

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) maintains two conservation bison herds in the Denver Mountain Parks system at Genesee Park and Daniels Park. 

The herds were originally established at Denver’s City Park by the Denver Zoo and the City of Denver. The herd was moved to Genesee Park in 1914 and expanded to Daniels Park in 1938.

In March, the City of Denver donated 33 bison to the Northern Arapaho Tribe, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and Tall Bull Memorial Council to reintroduce wild bison and support conservation efforts on tribal lands.

The City and County of Denver said 15 American Bison were presented to the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, and 17 bison were transferred to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma. One bison will be given to the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado.

“For over a century now, Denver has been the proud caretaker of these Bison herds, and we remain committed to their conservation as an integral part of the ecosystem here in the West,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

“We’re taking that commitment to a new level, and through this effort with our tribal partners, this is an opportunity to help establish, support, and sustain Native American conservation herds across the country.”  

Last year, Denver City Council approved an ordinance for the donation of American Bison from the City and County of Denver to American Indian Tribes and non-profit organizations.

The first transfer of bison took place in April 2021. Thirteen bison were transferred to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma and one to Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado.

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) has historically held an annual auction to keep its Genesee Park and Daniels Park bison herds at a healthy population size and promote genetic diversity within the managed bison population.

DPR said it will no longer conduct the auction but will work with its tribal partners to select tribes across the country to build and enhance conservation herds on tribal lands.

“The bison is not only a vital link to our past as Northern Arapaho, it is essential to our future as we restore this important part of our culture and heritage,” said Elma Brown, interim CEO of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. “I am honored to participate in this bison transfer and look forward to these beautiful animals joining our existing herd and returning to the home of their ancestors on the Wind River Reservation.”

“The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are pleased to continue the growth of our historical food source. The Denver Mountain Parks Bison are a shot in the arm for our tribal nations. We wish Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Denver City Council and Denver Parks and Recreation staff a very gracious Hohóú/Né-á’eše (thank you),” said Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana.

The donation of surplus Denver Mountain Park bison to American Indian Tribes or American Indian Non-Profit organizations will continue through the year 2030, said DPR in consultation with its tribal partners: the Denver American Indian Commission, the Tall Bull Memorial Council and the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

New Threat to Buffalo—Mycoplasma bovis

New Threat to Buffalo—Mycoplasma bovis

After 30 years building up his herd here in the South Dakota badlands, Frederick DuBray is frustrated. “Everything I try seems to make it worse.” But he is determined to see it through. Photo credit Fred DuBray.

A recent New York Times article by Mitch Smith describes the disaster that has come to one Native American rancher in South Dakota who has worked 30 years to build up his buffalo herd.

He reported that Fred DuBray’s bison herd on the Cheyenne River Reservation has been ravaged by Mycoplasma bovis, a tiny bacterium that is decimating herds across the Plains and the West. Smith’s report He Spent Decades Protecting Buffalo; A Microscopic Invader Threatens That Work appears in the March 12, 2022 issue of the Times.

Since last year, his buffalo have been dying by the dozens, victims of a microscopic invader, Mycoplasma bovis, that has ravaged pastures across the Great Plains and the West, according to Smith.

The reporter describes riding for miles with DuBray through his large buffalo pasture that stretches for miles through the badlands. There he saw for himself black buffalo carcasses scattered in the sprawling pasture—now speckled with skeletons in various stages of decay.

“You have no idea what’s going to happen,” DuBray told him. “I really don’t even know what to do. Everything I try seems to make it worse.”

Now this man, who over the decades has helped lead efforts to re-establish herds on Native American lands, fears that the bacterium is a major problem to the future of the buffalo.

As he drove, DuBray scanned the brushy draws for lone buffalo standing off by themselves. As Smith writes, “There were many. Standing by themselves, or limping or coughing—all signs of an infection.”

DuBray indicated a small group of gaunt bison off to the side—against a riverbank.

“All three of those are sick—this one’s coughing,” he said. “They’re kind of gasping for air. Once they get where they’re like this, their lungs are totally destroyed already.”

“When a calf starts coughing and gasping for air, it’s probably too late—their lungs already may be destroyed,” notes Fred DuBray. SD Game Fish and Parks, Chris Hull.

Gaining Publicity is Worth it

Of course ranchers don’t like to talk about sickness in their herd—especially when they are losing animals. That can trigger one disaster on top of another.

Ranchers who have outbreaks are not required to report them, and many producers fear stigma or financial hardship if they come forward. So obtaining statistics on Mycoplasma deaths has been a challenge.

But DuBray has gone public about his losses and his frustration.

He says his business has already suffered as a result of the outbreak and his openness about it. He expects to stir up more abuse because he speaks publicly about what is happening in his buffalo herd.

But to help the cause is a risk he is willing to take. “People are trying to hush it up—to hide it,” he told me. “But I think it’s too important for that.

“It destroys the lungs, causes respiratory problems. And buffalo are social; they are always trying to lick each other.”

DuBray grew up on a cattle ranch and used to work with the Cheyenne River tribal herd. He says he’ll never go back to raising cattle.

Zach Ducheneaux, the national administrator of the Federal Farm Service Agency and also from the Cheyenne River tribe, said the recent decision to compensate ranchers for their losses should give them a reason to detail their losses, eventually leading to better data about the scale of the problem.

“What’s the point of sharing your information if the door is closed?” asked Ducheneaux, who previously served as a tribal council member at Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and has worked with DuBray.

“Now that we’ve opened it, I think we can have a freer communication with the buffalo industry about what their numbers are like, what their issues are.”

Both agree that for years the ranchers’ fight against M. bovisWi has been complicated by lack of information about its effect on buffalo.

Ranchers and researchers have relied on anecdotal accounts to come to a consensus that the ongoing surge in cases is probably the worst ever, even as they disagree about whether the bacterium is likely to have dire, species-level consequences.

“There’s just a ton that we don’t know about why this is happening and, therefore, how to manage it,” said Dr. Jennifer Malmberg, a veterinary pathologist from the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory who has examined some of Fred DuBray’s buffalo.

Widespread Infection: Causes and Effects

Jeff Martin, who grew up on a Wisconsin buffalo ranch and is now the Research Director at South Dakota State University’s new Center of Excellence for Bison Studies in Rapid City, said there is a link between the growing number of Mycoplasma bovis cases and the warming climate. This can cause stress for buffalo, weakening their immune systems and making them more susceptible to infections.

Dr. Martin has gathered a task force to help find a solution to the M. bovis problem, as they also call it. He said he knows of about 20 bison herds with confirmed Mycoplasma outbreaks in the last 18 months. He adds that it is made worse by drought conditions across the plains.

The Northern Plains, where many of the outbreaks have emerged, have experienced severe drought in recent years.

Many of the known cases in bison have hit private commercial herds, but officials said an outbreak last fall at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas killed about 22 animals, around 25% of their herd.

“This is just one of the expected outcomes of climate change worsening: drought, getting hotter, wildfires,” said Martin. When buffalo are run down or stressed they are also more vulnerable.

“It’s not just that you’re having poor forage quality. You also have poor access [to good water]. As droughts happen, that water begins to dry out and concentrates minerals and salts that are also not good for animals—let alone bison.

“So as they’re having to drink these less quality waters, that just is another compounding factor for their immune function.”

Martin adds what makes Mycoplasma bovis so hard to fight is that it doesn’t have a cell wall, which is what antibiotics target. That’s how most of them work—by destroying the cell wall.

The buffalo is integral to the Lakota Sioux creation story, said Richard Williams, a consultant on Native American issues who is Oglala Lakota and Cheyenne. Lakota people, who for centuries migrated across the Plains with the buffalo and were sustained by its meat, consider the buffalo a relative.

“It’s not just an economic enterprise,” DuBray agrees. “It’s a cultural relationship that I’m trying to restore, as well.

Ongoing Research with Mycoploasma bovis

Dr. Murray Jelinski, a Canadian veterinarian who studies Mycoplasma bovis at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon told the Times:

“When you look at these things under a microscope, they’re kind of a blob—they’re kind of like Jell-O, they sit there—without a firm cell wall. A whole group of antimicrobials don’t work against Mycoplasmas because they don’t have a cell wall.”

Several vaccines tests did not confer protection against M. bovis and even made it worse. Researchers are baffled. The result was post-challenge deaths and increased dissemination of the bacteria.

To learn what NOT to do, researchers might study the National Institute of Health PubMed report Developments in Vaccines caused by Mycoplasma bovis, published June 9, 2021.

I hope they are challenged—not discouraged—by its conclusion:

“Several vaccine tests did not confer protection against M. bovis and even made it worse. The result was post-challenge deaths and increased dissemination of the bacteria in the host.

“To some extent, the vaccine partially reduced M. bovis joint colonization. However, it did not protect against the M. bovis spreading from the inoculated to non-inoculated joints, which was observed in both examined groups of calves.

“Inactivated vaccines are the most commonly used in studies to prevent infections with M. bovis. However, it is generally considered that inactivated vaccines have some disadvantages, including high production costs as well as possible modifications of the proteins of the strains during subculture.

The PubMed article reviews a number of attempts at developing vaccines.

“Many studies have been done using experimental vaccines but to date commercially available vaccines are available only in the US and their efficacy is not fully satisfactory.

“Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), one of the great historic plagues of cattle alongside the now eradicated rinderpest, continues to inflict serious losses on livestock in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

“But why is CBPP continuing to cause problems when it has been eradicated from Europe, Australia, Asia and North America?

“Sadly, because of economic hardships, civil wars and droughts affecting the countries where the disease is endemic and the inability to prevent transboundary movement of livestock, control in Africa seems further away than ever. CBPP is a severe pneumonia of cattle caused by the wall-less bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides.

“The disease is localized in the lungs, where it causes a highly characteristic ‘marbling’ of the lungs in the acute stages and lesions known as a ‘sequestra’ in the chronic form of the disease, according to the government publication PubMed.

Clinical signs include rapid breathing, fever, nasal discharge, anorexia, cough on exertion and sudden death. Mortality rates can exceed 50% when the disease appears for the first time in herds.

The difficulty is identifying affected animals quickly enough to prevent the disease spreading because, though the lung may be very severely damaged, clinical signs are often lacking.

“Inactivated vaccines are the most commonly used in studies to prevent infections with M. bovis. However, it is generally considered that inactivated vaccines have some disadvantages

“Clearly, next generation vaccines to replace T1/44, should, ideally, be stable, given in a single dose, provide a longer duration of immunity and higher levels of protection and not cause adverse reactions.”

“A vaccine that would confer better immunity is urgently needed. What is clear, is that any M. bovis vaccine needs to be part of a wider vaccination program involving other respiratory pathogens,” NIH researchers say.

As stated prophetically by researchers in 2004: “this is by no means assured.” Indeed, since then no vaccines to date have met all these criteria. Despite encouraging immune responses, cattle, given an immune-stimulating complex (ISCOM) vaccine, had similar gross pathological and histopathological scores as non-vaccinated controls.

“In spite of two vaccinations at 6-weekly intervals and high antibody responses there was no evidence in the animals used of any protection afforded by either preparation; indeed, there appeared to be an exacerbation of pathology in the vaccinated animals compared to unvaccinated contact controls.

“Lesions and fibrin were most extensive and pleural fluid more abundant in vaccinated animals. In one group, half the cattle died before the end of the experiment, while a quarter died in the other group, compared to just under half that died in the control group.

“Data on the present commercial vaccines in use today are modest at best, with one showing an efficacy of 1%. Clearly, improvements need to be made before control of this fast-emerging disease is possible.”

Another vaccine did not protect against the effects of articular challenge with the virulent M. bovis strain, despite effective stimulation of the humoral response. Post-challenge, the clinical disease and the joint lesions in the vaccinated calves were similar to those observed in the non-vaccinates, which was additionally confirmed by histopathology.

The PubMed report continued, “The countries with the highest prevalence include Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Angola. Indeed, this has hardly changed over the last 20 years, showing that most attempts at control have been unsuccessful.

“The disease in sub-Saharan Africa is mostly characterized by occasional severe outbreaks when native herds are exposed to infected animals moved often illegally across borders. Moreover, due to the weak economies of many countries, stamping out the movement control, slaughter and compensation seen in Europe are not options.

“A Scientific Conference in Gaborone in 1994 concluded that vaccination of cattle remained the best way of controlling CBPP, but a vaccine that would confer better immunity than the T1 strain vaccine being used was urgently needed. Over a quarter of a century later, scientists came to the same conclusion.

“Calls for studies into the immunology of the diseases have also failed to provide sufficient insight to improve vaccines. No inactivated, sub-unit or attenuated vaccines have been developed which improve upon the live TI vaccine developed in the 1950s.

“The limitations of the T1 strain vaccine have been long recognized: short duration of immunity and tendency to cause adverse reactions, and because it is only semi-attenuated, it can lead to outbreaks in closed herds.

“Mass vaccination had been highly successful in many countries but failed in others due mainly to the inability to maintain annual vaccination.

“What is clear, however, is that any M. bovis vaccine needs to be part of a wider vaccination program involving other respiratory pathogens, including BVD, PI3V, Mannheimia, Pasteurella and possibly others.”

New Resources on the Way

“We are excited to assist the bison industry in this way,” says Martin, who is officially in charge of bison research in the US—as Director of the Center for Excellence for Bison. “We look forward to contributing in such a large and positive way that identifies some relief for bison managers while research advances to discover more effective vaccines and treatments.” He can be contacted at SDSU (605-688-4792) or email sdsu.extension@sdstate.edu.

Jim Matheson, now Director of the National Bison Association, located in Colorado—moving up from his position after many years as Assistant Director—tells me NBA will shortly have a one-page handout on M. bovis and what producers should watch for so they might relieve stress on bison and other problems at an early stage. www.bisoncentral.com

A world-wide problem, Mycoplasma bovis was first isolated in the US in 1961 from the milk of a cow with mastitis. It is one of 126 species of genus Mycoplasma, and the smallest living cell in nature.

It causes many diseases including mastitis in dairy cows, arthritis in cows and calves, likely late-term abortion and various other diseases. Mostly the M. bovis affects cattle, but except for calves not as fatally as it does bison.

Seemingly buffalo have no natural immunity against its devastating ravages. There’s no effective vaccine or treatment for M. bovis infections.

We may think that should be easy to solve. But the experts know better.

As of June 2017, only two OECD nations (an international economic organization of 34 countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade were considered to be free of Mycoplasma bovis. They are New Zealand and Norway, but in July 2017 some cattle near Oamaru, New Zealand were found to be positive; see 2017 Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

Qualifying for FSA Indemnity Program

Dark buffalo carcasses were scattered over Fred DuBray’s big pasture—skeletons in various stages of decay. Photo NPS.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced that bison death losses resulting from Mycoplasma bovis are eligible for the livestock indemnity program that reimburses ranchers to some extent. Authored by Jeff Martin, it is retroactive to cover loses in 2021.

Ducheneaux urges: “For now, please encourage any of your producers to notify their local FSA office of any and all losses as soon as possible and keep them updated as to further losses they may sustain and ask for an ELAP application.”

Also, if there is overlap of Mycoplasma losses with drought, the USDA requests that weather be documented as well to assist with decisions. Drought conditions for your area over the past year can be determined using the comparison Drought Monitor online tool.

Ironically, the most urgent recommendations in Martin’s article on M. bovis is how to dispose of infected carcasses. Financial assistance is available under the name Emergency Animal Morality Management as part of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Agricultural producers and owners of nonindustrial private forestland and Tribes are eligible to apply for EQIP funds. To receive assistance, papers must be filed and approved before disposal of animal carcasses. Before payment, a mortality certification is required by a veterinarian or an animal health specialist.

Qualifying losses include those greater than 5% in young bison under 400 lbs and/or greater than 1.5% in mature bison larger than 400 lbs. Acceptable proof must be provided as follows:

  1. Of a beginning inventory prior to infection that year and a final tally of deaths by four categories: Bison less than 400 lbs. (broken down by males and females) and bison greater than 400 lbs. (broken down by males and females).
  2. That your property experienced adverse weather event(s) within a reasonable timeframe before the bison died, including, but not limited to, extreme cold, oscillating temperatures and/or precipitation and/or drought;
  3. Your local veterinarian’s certification of death loss attributed to Mycoplasma bovis. This may include, but is not limited to, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test of at least one animal to confirm that Mycoplasma bovis was present in the individual and that symptoms were present in the remaining individuals. The FSA allows euthanasia of animals suffering from symptoms of Mycoplasma bovis, but the diagnosis must be verified by a veterinarian.

“We need to know more about Mycoplasma bovis. The manner of development of this disease in bison. We also need a well-designed and systematic scientific study of the distribution, frequency, patterns and risk factors for bison,” says Dr Woerner, Montana Veterinarian.

Prevention for Now

Dr Don Woerner, a veterinarian friend of mine from Laurel Montana visited Fred Dubray’s ranch and observed his wide-open South Dakota badlands pastures where there’s plenty of freedom for the buffalo.

“We need to know more about Mycoplasma bovis,” Woerner says. “The manner of development of this disease in bison. We also need a well-designed and systematic scientific study of the distribution, frequency, patterns and risk factors for bison. How it acts. Bison don’t have immunity to this.

It is unclear whether research underway can come in time to help Fred DuBray, whose herd continues to dwindle. Photo Chris Hull SD GFP.

“Feeding low-level antibiotics to our domestic livestock and poultry has never been a good practice and the fact we are getting all these strains of M. bovis may be a result of it.

“I like to see bison managed like a wild herd. Not using antibiotics for buffalo—that can cause complications. These organisms mutate and change.

“I don’t really like bringing buffalo together for sales or competition—and then taking them back home again after they’ve been with other animals.

“We need to quarantine them in a good facility before putting them back in the herd. Some say for 30 days; I prefer 45 to 60 days. Bio security is important—we need to be aware of it.

“We have to be able to deal with buffalo as they are. Sometimes its hard: bison have evolved without the help of man. What’s a good animal? Some have genetic issues.

We should not manage buffalo with a ‘cattle mentality.’ Bison should be celebrated and managed as the wild animal they truly are.”

Dr. Danielle Buttke, a veterinary epidemiologist with the National Park Service who also has visited the DuBray ranch to study the deaths, said that the limited buffalo gene pool, a legacy of the large-scale slaughter during westward expansion, has made it harder for the species to withstand disease outbreaks.

“Without urgent action, Mycoplasma threatens to undo much of the painstaking conservation work that has stabilized buffalo herds.

“It’s not just the loss of individual animals,” Dr. Buttke added. “It’s a very, very different impact to a species that already suffers from genetic bottlenecking and isolation than it is in a cattle system.”

Dr. Buttke said she was working to develop a better test to detect buffalo carrying the bacterium without showing symptoms, which would allow ranchers to isolate those animals before they could spread Mycoplasma widely. She worries about mutations, about species-to-species transmission, about the challenge of developing treatments.

It was not clear that any of the research would come in time to help Fred DuBray and his wife, Michelle Fredericks DuBray, whose animals continue to suffer and whose herd continues to dwindle, according to the Times article.

“The ones that are surviving are they going to be OK?” asked Michelle DuBray. “Are they going to get this next year? Do we keep the calves? What do we do?”


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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