Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Where the buffalo roam

For nearly every human on the face of the planet, the place where the buffalo roam exists solely in the mind. It's understandable, therefore, that for those few hardy souls who venture into buffaloland, things are never quite as they expected. And that's okay.
Stolen from the Neu Euorke Thymes! S
I don't know how widespread the national reporting was regarding the poor little buffalo calf abandoned by its herd in Yellowstone last month, but perhaps you saw or read about it. Some tourists “rescued” the calf and delivered it to park rangers, who tried to reintroduce it to the herd. Ultimately the calf was rejected by its group and the rangers euthanized it.
Stolen from natgeo, who stole it from the interwebs. Natgeo seem to believe that all humans are murderers of all of nature, and should never, therefore, be allowed into national parks. I disagree. So sue me. S
There was no shortage of opinions about the situation, but for all intents and purposes, there were really only two basic opinions. The tourists were heroes and the park rangers goons, or the reverse.

That’s one of the interesting things about humanity. For most of us, we tend to see the world in terms of opposites or opposing ideas. Good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, my side or the enemy. It’s human nature, but it’s a serious shortcoming, and it keeps a lot of people very unhappy in my opinion. Unhappy in the sense that they feel a need for the world to be one way or another, and they become very unhappy when the reality doesn’t match their desire.

In the case of the buffalo calf there really weren’t any “sides” at all. First of all, the buffalo herd was simply being a buffalo herd. Buffalo are herding, grazing prey animals. Individuals in the herd have to stay with the herd in order to survive. Even the baby calves. If a baby calf can’t keep up, it will be abandoned and perish. That’s just nature. Buffalo have evolved this behavior and they can no more abandon it than they can start climbing trees and become monkeys. This is just reality. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

In the case of the humans, there were really no sides either. The tourists were trying to save the baby calf. Humans have a very strong drive to nurture babies. It’s primarily a drive to nurture our own young, but it tends to leak across species boundaries, probably because we also have the ability to reason. That doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, but it’s a consequence of having both instinct and reason operating at the same time. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. The tourists felt a need to intervene, and used reason to come up with and execute their plan to put the calf in their car and take it to the park rangers. Not knowing or understanding the nature of buffalo, it seemed to them a reasonably good idea.

When presented with the calf, the park rangers found themselves in a tough situation. Part of their job is to manage the interface between nature and tourist; to teach and explain, as well as to protect human visitors, wildlife, and the environment. Park rangers understand the nature of buffalo, and they knew that the odds were against the herd accepting the calf. They gave it their best shot, but it didn’t work out. The herd had moved on and the calf no longer belonged. To human sensibilities this seems harsh, but buffalo are not human. When the rangers saw that the calf was rejected, they were in a tough situation. Leave the calf to starve and be predated, or euthanize it.

At the end of the day we had a case of buffalo being buffalo and humans being humans. No right or wrong, good or bad. What happened, happened. The buffalo behaved like buffalo. The people behaved like people.

A lot of folks have opined that the tourists should never have touched the calf, and that the rangers should never have tried to reintroduce it to the herd. Well, that’s one approach. But even if we agree that in general such attempted reintroductions usually fail, they don’t always fail. Where and how do you draw the line?

In reality, you simply can’t draw the line. You can make and try to stick to various guidelines, but there is simply no one-size-fits-all solution. Nature doesn’t work that way. The universe is a dynamic place.


  1. I'd say that the buffalo, prior to the arrival of civilization on the Plains, had a pretty effective evolutionary scheme. It is the herd that matters. We aren't that much different really, for the species to survive (any species for that matter) ofttimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    It sucks when you're that individual but it is what it is. The species endures.

    1. Compared to most species which have existed across time, each of today's extant species had excellent evolutionary schemes. Even the horse, which is clearly on the way out. It'll be interesting to se if H. sapiens, with it's outsized sense of individualism, will survive. I'll be the alien anthropologists watching us are eating this stuff with a spoon. :)

  2. Too many people have watched too much Disney, and too many cartoons, where the animals ae sentient, and are so grateful to the humans. As you pointed out, 'tain't so. I really don't see what other option the rangers had in the situation. A pity, but the truth so often is.

    1. Most of our fellows have developed an addiction to being programmed by the television. Not a good thing. As my good friend and mentor Manny Kant said, "Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another." The loargest part of us are very, very immature.

      You can make a valid argument that the rangers should have turned the calf loose and walked away.

    2. True, but if the end result is the same, my way is faster.

    3. Correct. And one of the things we do as principled people is prevent suffering. Shooting (I doubt they used any other form of euthanasia) is quick and clean and without the suffering of starvation or disease or predation.

  3. I know it sounds hard, but I would have left the buffalo calf.

    So many have moved away from the land, they no longer realize that Mother Nature's system really is a sound one. Seems to me that most times when we meddle with her we cause more harm than good.

    1. Thanks Brig.

      I'm glad it wasn't my call. Would have been tough either way. Tough enough when I have to put down one of my own critters.

      So many folks are so lost and confused these days, living in schizophrenic hives and trying so desperately to be in control. We can do a lot of cool stuff but none of us are any more in control of the world than that buffalo calf was.