Photo by George Lauby
Two Cody Park bison, Feb. 7.
A bull bison was shot around 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 28 at Cody Park, then hauled away to be slaughtered, igniting a firestorm of controversy.As the Bulletin reported the next day, park officials needed to thin the herd and couldn’t find a home for the bull, so they sold it to a buyer who wanted the meat.
Without super stout loading facilities at the park and to avoid the chance that someone might get hurt, they decided to kill the bison first, then haul it off.
It was a dicey public relations move, especially after Kasia Gambs Dowhower of North Platte told the competing newspaper in town that she and her four-year-old daughter were there and saw it. Kasia said her daughter was traumatized.
As the Bulletin reported, the 5- or 6-year-old bull had lived at the park since September 2009, when the bison first arrived at the park. People love to see the historic animals that were once plentiful on the Plains. The half-dozen head of bison are a fitting addition to park that is named for Buffalo Bill Cody.
Over the years, the cows gave birth and the initial group of three cows and a bull expanded to seven. There are now three calves at the park, two of which were born last year. The herd outgrew the space available.
In mid-January, two bison bulls got out of the heavily fenced area and into a wider fenced area around the park’s pond that is normally reserved for deer and elk, as well as the hundreds of geese that come and go, Minshull told the Bulletin.
Officials had been working on arrangements to remove the bull for months. When the two bulls got out, they went ahead and made the deal with a buyer. The bull was sold and weighed, tipping the scale at 1,675 pounds. The city received $1.85 a pound, or nearly $3,100, for the animal.
To avoid alarming the public, the buyer and seller agreed to eliminate the bison early in the morning. Nevertheless, word got out that the bison would be shot. Concerned North Platte residents called the Bulletin a couple days before it happened. We tried to reach Minshull, but our calls went unanswered until after the bull was killed.
Without admitting that the bull had been shot, Minshull said that safety is always a concern with handling animals, especially a mature bison bull.
“If they get ornery, you can’t control them,” he said.
Minshull also said two more bison calves will be sold in the future, to reduce the number to four head, so there is enough hay to go around and plenty of space for the animals to lounge. He doubts that there will be another bull at the park.
He said the calves would probably go to a ranch near Maxwell, if not farther away in the state, when the time comes, but that has not been determined yet.
Also, Minshull he said he is working to reduce the number of llamas at the park too, looking for a place to sell or trade them.
“It’s great to have them,” he said of the animals, which include deer, elk and miniature donkeys, too. “The babies are really cute. People fall in love with them; sometimes they make up names for them. That’s great. We also have to be sensitive to overcrowding. That creates health concerns for both people and animals.”
The competing newspaper in town ran the story of the bison shooting at the top of the front page without getting any further information from Minshull, igniting the public outcry.
The city council wants to know more. Mayor Dwight Livingston has reportedly ordered an official investigation.
One wonders what Gambs would have seen at the park in the dawn at 7:30 a.m. and why she took her two young children there. The temperature was 8 below zero. Sunrise was at 7:57 a.m., the National Weather Service in North Platte said. One wonders if her concern was so intense that she acted on hearsay. In the ensuing political outcry, we suspect that the city will be encouraged to write regulations for such procedures, after they have been reviewed and discussed by the city council. A specialist in bison handling might have to be hired. A better bison loading facility will have to be built. Given that bison can be destructive, it will add up to more costs for taxpayers.
We haven't found anything sinister in the steps the city took. We think they made the best of an unfortunate, rare situation.
Let's hope the city doesn't decide to stop keeping bison at Cody Park for our edification, or the llamas, elk and deer that are there, because they are too much trouble.
That would be a loss for all of us.
This report was written and first published on Feb. 7. -Editor