Where the buffalo roam
Fort Resolution bison captured in round-up

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Fort Resolution(Jan 10/00) - About 25 bison "flew the coop" last week from the Edjericon Bison Ranch in Fort Resolution, causing an around-the-clock round-up of the domestic bison.

The animals fled the penned enclosure when a windstorm blew trees down, breaking an opening in the enclosure.

This is the first escape by the bison who were moved to Res from the Fort Smith Hanging Ice Buffalo Ranch in 1996, said Deninu Ku'e First Nation Chief Don Balsillie.

He said they are confident they have located all of the missing bison, but as yet they have not been able to do an accurate count.

"It's hard to determine just how many there are, because they keep moving in and out of the thick bush," Balsillie said.

The band, who owns the herd, have enlisted a dozen residents with snow machines to coax the renegade bison back to the fold with hay and oats.

Failing that, Balsillie said they will go to "Plan B."

"We're now looking at where they are congregating in these small meadows and fencing them with temporary fencing and cut a line in and backing up a cattle truck to prod them into the truck," he said.

Balsillie said they feel certain the herd never came in contact with any diseased bison during their time on the "outside," but they plan to take all the necessary safety procedures.

"We're going to take all the precautionary measures to accommodate all the necessary public and Bison Association protocols," he said.

Balsillie enlisted the help of RWED's bison biologist, Troy Ellsworth. From the air, Ellsworth said they were able to locate all the missing bison.

"We went over there with a fixed-wing aircraft and surveyed the area to the north, south and west," Ellsworth said. "We followed the tracks leading to three small groups of animals and a couple along the highway -- we found a total of 25 animals."

Ellsworth's office became involved mainly out of concern over the spread of tuberculosis and brucellosis -- two diseases that have decimated herds of bison.

"That was our major concern and that's why we decided to go over and assist the ground crews in locating these animals," he said. "TB would probably be the disease we would be worried about and that can be transmitted through nose to nose contact."

"Brucellosis is transmitted basically through abortions," he said. "Bison are social animals and if there is a fetus that is aborted, the animals tend to clean up those bodily fluids. Through reproduction they could also contract it."

Ellsworth said they flew the RWED Cessna south of Pine Point and west to look for any sign of wild bison in the area, to make certain there was no chance of infecting the herd.

"They are still quite a distance from any known bison," he said. "The idea right now is to get them back in the pens as soon as possible because the longer they are out, the more complicated things become."

There remains the possibility of a quarantine, he said.

"They had a breakout, but as far as we know they have not come into contact with other animals," he said. "Definitely, there will be at least ... at minimum, a whole herd test before they ship any of these animals south. That would only be prudent."

Chief Balsillie is also concerned over hunters shooting the domestic bison before they get back to the pen.

"These animals are the property of the band and anyone shooting them will be charged under the Wildlife Act," he warned.