More Tales Of The Island

About the last thing I expected to see on Catalina Island were bison. Right – I had not done my homework, otherwise I would have been aware of this story:

1924 a herd of 14 bison were transported to Catalina Island to act as extras in a silent movie (“The Vanishing American” ). After filming was done – and here the reports get a bit sketchy – the film company either left the animals on the island for cost reasons or because they could not round up the bison again to take them back. Be that as it may, the bison stayed and became a tourist attraction. They also multiplied and became reason for concern: The eco system of Catalina Island is rather fragile and was and is not set up to support several hundred bison, happily munching away on rare plants indigenous to the island.

Now and then some animals were taken off the island, but the herd grew to around 350 head – too many to stay there. At this point the Catalina Island Conservancy came up with the plan to return some of the animals to their home, home being the Great Plains. But would they survive there after 80 years in sunny California? Very quietly a herd of about 50 head were taken off the island and sent to the land of the Cheyenne, who were partners in this experiment. Surprisingly enough the bison adjusted within weeks to the different weather conditions, grew a nice thick winter pelt and thrived on the more nourishing grass of their old home.

After this test run, both the Conservancy and the Indian tribes knew that the repatriation would not harm the animals. With the help of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and some others, in 2004 funding was found to round up 100 bison, ship them to the mainland and transport them by truck the roughly 2,000 miles to South Dakota to the land of the Lakota tribe.

A short video can be seen here.

There are still bison on Catalina Island, a herd of about 150 animals. The island can sustain this many and for the visitor it is a wonderful experience to see some of these remarkable animals in the wild without having to travel 2,000 miles.

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4 Replies to “More Tales Of The Island”

  1. Hello Petra…What an accurate account of the bison on Catalina! You did a very good job. You might want to add that the herd did get as many as 600 during the 1960s. Bison were shipped to auction to thin the herd. The lucky ones went to breeding grounds, the others to “buffalo burgers.” Sending them back the the Plains is a win/win/win situation all around — for the Indians, for the Island, and for the bison. Just wondering…where did you get the Going Home video? I love that video…it is a really touching account of that great day — I believe it was December 12, 2004.
    Thanks again.
    Bob Rhein
    Director of Media Relations
    Catalina Island Conservancy

  2. Dear Bob,

    thanks for your favorable comment and your additional information.

    As to the video – all blog entries are related to travels and observations here in California, or SoCal to be more precise. I read up on the subject beforehand and poke around the internet to get the details right. In this case I was off the actual number of bison by a head or two, I am afraid.

    While researching for this little entry I came across the video by chance. As I recall it was produced with help from “Indian Country Today”, published by Four Directions Media, an enterprise of the Oneida Indian Nation. Maybe they can tell you more there.

    In any case I will be back on Catalina Island next year at the beginning of May for the Old Boys Rugby Tournament. While the “old boys” have fun on the pitch, I will most probably go up the mountains again to maybe see my shaggy friends, the bison.

  3. There used to be camels in west Texas, part of a failed attempt to use them as pack and riding animals. I don’t think any are left. There are bison in various places around here. Some are in private herds, and some are on public lands, like those that are at LBJ State Park. I know someone that had a few buffalo on his land. The bull kept escaping and ending up on a major highway in Austin. It made the national news once, because of the effort to get him back inside the fence.

  4. Camels – yes, they introduced them into California too, to serve in the army. Somehow that did not work out, some of the animals were sold, others left to roam freely. Today CA is camel-free again (okay, outside of zoos).

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