Yellowstone visitors hope to spot rare white buffalo calf

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming. — Standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park, TJ Ammond looked through binoculars at hundreds of buffalo dotting the verdant valley below.

Beige calves frolicked near their mothers while imposing bulls wallowed in the mud.

As his wife and young children gathered behind him, Ammond scanned the vast herd and shouted, “I see a white one!”

“Or no, it’s a pronghorn,” he soon corrected. “It’s white and it’s small.”

TJ Ammond is seen searching for buffalo, also known as bison, in Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, on Thursday.Matthew Brown/AP

Grizzly bears and wolves are usually the star attractions for wildlife watchers in Yellowstone, but this spring an extremely rare small white buffalo stole the show.

The white buffalo – also known as the bison – is considered sacred by many Native Americans who welcomed the news of a buffalo’s birth in Yellowstone as an auspicious sign.

It all started when photographer Erin Braaten of Kalispell, Montana, took several images of the unsightly little creature snuggled up to her mother on June 4, shortly after she was born near the banks of the Lamar River. Braaten and her family were driving through the park when she spotted “something really white” and took a closer look through her telephoto lens.

They turned around and stopped to watch and take photos of the calf with its mother for more than half an hour.

Despite crowds of visitors with glasses and photographers with telephoto lenses in the Lamar Valley, a prime spot for viewing wildlife in Yellowstone, few others saw the calf and no sightings have been reported since. Even Braaten and her family did not see the calf again despite returning over the next two days, she said.

As in the legend, the calf remains mysterious in life.

Some think it was a short period. Bison calves often don’t survive when their herds decide to plunge into waters like Lamar, which runs high and muddy from melting mountain snow.

Yet even though he died, the event is no less important to Native Americans, said Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Oyate in South Dakota, and 19th guardian of the sacred pipe of the white buffalo calf woman. andBundle.

“The fact is we all know he was born and it’s like a miracle to us,” Looking Horse said.

The creature’s birth fulfills a Lakota prophecy that portends better times, according to members of the Native American tribe who warn that it is also a signal that more must be done to protect the land and its animals. They are planning a ceremony in the coming weeks to commemorate the event.

In the meantime, the rumor of the white buffalo has spread widely. Ammond had heard about the white calf on The Weather Channel and was eager to see it during his family’s trip to Yellowstone from Ohio.

Usually, white bison are born in ranch herds due to crossbreeding with cattle. They are rare but not uncommon, with births occasionally making the headlines in local newspapers.

Two genetic variations, leucism and albinism, explain this unusually light-colored animal. Experts doubt the Yellowstone calf is an albino.

Either way, a wild white buffalo is extremely rare – perhaps unheard of in Yellowstone, one of the last sanctuaries for free-ranging American bison. The animals once numbered in the tens of millions before commercial hunting drove them to near extinction. The Yellowstone herd numbers approximately 5,000 individuals.

For dedicated Yellowstone wildlife watchers, a good glimpse or photo of a wolf, grizzly bear—or especially an elusive wolverine or lynx—makes for a good field day. A glimpse of the white bison would be the privilege of a lifetime.

Employees of several companies offering tours, hikes and horseback rides in Yellowstone said they had not seen the white bison. At least someone was skeptical about the authenticity of the sighting, but a cellphone video provided by Braaten’s son, Zayne Braaten, showing the calf in a vast scene closely resembling the Lamar Valley left little doubt. room for doubt whether the calf was – or was – the real deal. .

Amateur photographer Sabrina Midkiff of Houston said taking photos of buffalo was the main goal of her trip to the park this summer. She had taken thousands of photos so far and wondered if the white calf was hidden somewhere in the crowd in one of her photos.

Seeing him would be exciting, Midkiff said, but she had heard he might have died — by drowning, being eaten by wolves or coyotes, or simply being too weak to survive.

“A lot of things can happen here in nature,” she said.

Near the site where Braaten said he took his photos, New Mexico native Bob Worthington stood outside his truck Thursday and looked out at a distant hillside. He said he has been visiting Yellowstone for 26 years with one goal: to see grizzly bears.

Worthington gruffly dismissed a question about the valley’s bison herds. But when we talked about the white calf, he lit up with a smile.

“I’d love to see this little rascal,” he said.

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