Sunday, May 7, 2017

Buffalo / Bison and other BIG and small Mammals

Deer were a dime a dozen.  I guess these are White Tailed, and I don't think we saw any Mule Deer.  Dr. McDonald probably can provide a lot more detail on all these big mammals.

These pronghorn antelope are on their way to play, I guess.  Poker, monopoly, boccie ball, and other antelope games.  They often play with the deer, or so the song goes.

Cows, and an antelope walking the fence line.  He just jumped right over the 5' high fence.

More antelope, these were in the badlands of South Dakota.

Beautiful Pinto Ponies.  We saw some pretty Appaloosa's too, when we went through their home, the Paloose area of eastern Washington.  Oddly enough, on the entire trip we never, ever saw anyone actually riding horses.  We did see a lot of folks riding quads, though.

This Mountain Goat was grazing by the Mt. Rushmore Memorial, right in the parking lot.

Bighorn sheep in the SD badlands. As far as we could see, these are ewes and 1-2 year olds. We did not observe any rams with the typicaL curved round horns.

As you can see, these Bighorn Sheep are loosing their winter fur.

Mrs. Dr. V's absolute all-time favorite are the prairie dogs.  She just laughed and laughed and laughed at their antics.  Their prairie dog town intersected the Sage Creek primitive campground we stayed at in South Dakota.  It was interesting to see how the prairie dogs have devastated the grass around the town, and have range a few hundred yards to graze.  They are VERY fast, and their communication network protects them from predators.

In the Badlands National Park, there were many, many Buffalo.  Originally, scientists estimate there were about 60,000,000 buffalo in the US.  Now, after a century of strong and difficult conservation efforts, the number has been brought back up from an estimated low of just 300 in the US in 1900 to about 400,000 today.

Where did the 59,999,700 go?  In large part, they were shot and killed.  The reasons are numerous, but important factors were sport shooting and shooting to take away the food and resource base Native Americans relied on (thus eliminating the Native Americans' way of life).  There's a lot to talk about there, but instead, let's just look at some pictures of this unbelievably magnificent ikon of America.

Just standing in the road.  Why?  Because he can stand where ever he wants, that's why.  This one was actually licking the salt off the road.  You could hear the coarse rasping of his tongue.

They don't much care about snow or cold weather.

And this herd is just hanging out grazing.  They eat about 50 pounds of grass a day - the equivalent of a bale of hay.

This one walked right up to the camper and....

Pawed at the ground....

Started peeing.... (note that he's on our side of the camping limits sign.  There wasn't any Buffalo limits sign to tell him which side to stay on :-)  Actually, there was a sign at the campground that warned campers that Buffaloes may walk through the campground.  The sign was right.)

Rubbed his head in the dirt while peeing...

Rubbed his chest in the dirt while still peeing (obviously feels good)...

And then rolled, rolled, rolled in the mess....


And finally mustering great dignity, walked off feeling better.

Typical view in the grasslands portion of the Badlands, South Dakota.  This is near Sage Creek Primitive Campground, probably the most significant stop we made on the entire trip around the country.

Note the winter fur coming off.  We picked up some that had gotten caught in the grass and brambles, and brought it home.

If this one dozes off, he's going to fall in...

 Finally, in the evening they wandered along past the campsite until....

They were all gone.

If I was poetic, I'd say "and the ephemeral spirit of the American West disappeared into the setting sun, as if they never existed."  In truth, the whole area is littered with Buffalo poop, prairie dog poop, coyote poop, and the like.  It's so dry the stuff just doesn't go away.  One thing we read spoke of Native Americans using the Buffalo poop for fires (there's no wood to speak of), as a Frisbee-like toy, and as something to fill diapers with.  Truly an all-purpose material :-)

And the requisite sunset over Badlands National Park photograph.

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