Over 350 hybrid bison have been on a rampage in the northern region of Grand Canyon National Park, and the herd has been tearing up vegetation, impinging on the native habitat of the endangered Mexican spotted owl, knocking down Native American cliff dwellings and befouling the water supply by using it as a toilet.
The animals were originally introduced to northern Arizona in the early 1900's, and have made their way past the boundaries of the Grand Canyon. The state of Arizona legally owns the herd as it exists outside of the park, but the bison are now almost exclusively living within the borders of the national reserve. The wily bison were brought to the region to be crossbred with cows for ranching operations, to produce hybrids known as beefalo or cattalo.
Beefalo are a fertile hybrid combination of domestic cattle and the American bison, created to combine the characteristics of both species for beef production. Beefalo are primarily cattle genetically, and typically maintain only 37.5% bison DNA. Animals that have gained more bison genes over generations are known as "bison hybrids." These bison no longer resemble cattle, but still maintain roughly ten percent cattle DNA.
Here are some more genetically-aligned beefalo/cattalo grazing:
Creating beefalo has proven to be a serious setback to wild American bison conservation. Most current buffalo herds are genetically polluted or partly crossbred with cattle, and only four purebred American bison herds remain in the United States.
Federal and state wildlife officials are weighing methods to control the herd residing in the park, where they are protected by law, allowing for a free-range population that can be taken by huntsman on nearby forested areas. On Wednesday it was announced that three meetings on the matter will be held in southern Utah and Arizona, along with a 60-day scoping period.
Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga commented, "It's the first step in a long process today. We're just trying to get it out there and get it on everybody's radar screens."
Bison can weigh more than a ton, and can run as fast as 40 mph. Uberuaga noted that present management methods which include baiting, hazing, fencing and relocating the bison and shooting them has proven ineffective in controlling the Grand Canyon population.
Officials from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service expect to have a plan concerning the wayward herd to be issued by fall, 2016.
Image via Wikimedia Commons