Bet ya think I’m going to talk about being annoyed. No, even when I am annoyed I’ll try never to subject anyone else to my reasons for being so. They only make sense at the time anyway. No, this image is all about this buffalo (otherwise known as a bison) being annoyed with me. If you’re familiar with American bison, you know they once roamed over most of the central parts of North America. And that now they’re confined mostly to a few national parks, Yellowstone chief among them.
So you may think this shot is from Yellowstone, or possibly nearby Grand Teton National Park. You may even know about the buffalo herd at Wind Cave, South Dakota, and think he lives there.
None of the above! The truth is that I got a surprise when I visited the southern part of Oklahoma recently. I had seen on the map that there was a wildlife refuge called Wichita Mountains NWR. I also saw on the web that there were a small number of buffalo there. Since it was a quick trip, I didn’t expect to see many buffalo, let alone get close enough for a good shot.
Towards dusk I happened to glance off into the trees while driving by and saw this youngish bull. I stopped and walked around behind him. Approaching slowly and watchfully, I kept some small trees between he and I.
I’ve learned to be cautious around buffalo, but how cautious often depends. At times you can walk right up to them, drawing no more than a casual glance. I don’t set out wanting to get too close of course. But on several occasions while hiking in Yellowstone, I’ve rounded a corner and been confronted with one of the massive beasts lounging in the grass beside the trail. If it is not autumn, this is not usually a panic situation.
I got close enough to this one to get his attention. He immediately let me know that I had gotten close enough, thank you. He turned and took a couple steps in my direction, fixing me with a glare. If that wasn’t enough, he began to urinate. That was my clue to back away. There is a rule of thumb with any large (or even not so large) male animal. Almost anytime you see them urinating, you can be sure it’s to send a definite signal: stay back!
There are other fairly obvious signals that buffalo give you. One is when they arch their tail up in the air. I’ve seen bulls do that during mating season, just before charging another bull. Another clue is when they throw their huge furry heads about. If you come upon a buffalo with an arched tail, who’s throwing his head around and urinating at the same time, you should definitely not approach any closer. And strongly consider retreating.
Many tourists have been injured, some even killed, by bison. At Yellowstone especially, people often approach too closely in an attempt to get a good picture. They ignore the obvious warning signals that the bison (I think kindly) is giving them. When questioned by rangers, some of these people don’t realize that they are wild animals. And they seem to believe they are slow and ponderous.
True, buffalo go about most of their lives in slow-motion. But that’s deceiving. I’ve seen them run very fast and jump 6-foot high fences. That’s 1500 pounds launching itself over a high fence! When they want to be, buffalo can be very athletic and very cantankerous – a potentially deadly combination. It’s amazing to me that more people aren’t rammed and gored, given how many apparently unobservant tourists visit Yellowstone.
So if you plan to visit one of the parks with buffalo, remember the signals, especially if it’s the fall mating season. Stay safe, and have a great week!