And Please Don’t Pet the Buffalo, er, Bison

When my daughter, Gina, was just a toddler and learning to talk, she had this thing about wanting to pet everything; chickens, horses, cows, even a coyote that ran across the road. “I wanna pet it,” she would say with a plaintive pleading voice. Her little tongue couldn’t say the “w” so it came out as “I ’anna pet it.” One night we were admiring the rising of a huge full moon. Gina said, “I ’nna pet it.” It’s been a family joke ever since.

When we visited Yellowstone recently and saw tourists too close to a buffalo lying by the pathway at Old Faithful, the words went through my mind, “I ’nna pet it.” A recent video online shows some Chinese tourists literally petting a buffalo next to their car. Luckily this seemingly tame animal was in a good mood or their vacation would have had a tragic ending.

As a side note, this traditional cowboy has been unable to call those critters Bison. I once tried to adopt the modern vernacular by mentioning “Bison Bill Cody” to a crowd of cowboys. I nearly got hanged from a nearby tree. I ordered bison wings in a restaurant and the waitress rolled her eyes at me. I picked them up and rolled them right back to her. Around the campfire one night I sang that most famous of cowboy songs, Home on the Range, as follows; “Oh give me a home, where the bison roam.” I followed it up with that old classic “Bison Gal won’t you come out tonight.” My attempt at using the correct taxonomic word was not accepted with amusement. The group seemed uncomfortable and scooted a few feet further from me as if I was riding with only one foot in the stirrup. Somehow, the word bison represents trying to change the western cowboy way of life. So forgive me if the traditional buffalo of the wild west remains an icon in this column. If you want “bison” you will have to frequent the columns of the more genteel and erudite.

Besides not petting buffalo, there are a few more things you tourists need to know to survive your visit to Jackson Hole and the Parks.

No matter how cold or abandoned a baby animal is, don’t touch it. Leave it where you found it and report it to the Park Rangers. Let them deal with it. Don’t put the baby buffalo in your SUV as some tourists did. In this era of political correctness and modern game management, save yourself from a large fine and embarrassment.

Things have changed a lot in that regard over my life time. In 1961 our family worked in the high mountains of Colorado on a kid’s summer camp. Some camp kids found a newborn fawn mule deer and carried it into camp. Of course the adults knew that with human scent on it the doe would not take it back, so it became “Bambi”, the camp pet. We took turns feeding it from a bottle. Its sidekick, “Pepe’ le Pew” was a baby skunk we captured and had for a pet all summer. We never de-scented it and it never sprayed or smelled like a skunk. Our mother would open the door in the morning and let Bambi and Pepe’ and our dog Queenie come in the cabin and jump up on the bed to wake us kids up. It was a great summer in an easier time.

Wildlife management was more lax in those days. My dad reported the fawn to the game warden who agreed that only by us raising it would it ever have a chance of survival. Skunks were vermin so the warden didn’t care about Pepe’. At the end of the summer we took Bambi and Pepe’ to Mesa Verde National Park and turned them loose. The tourists in Mesa Verde commonly fed wildlife and treated wild animals as pets, with the Park’s blessing. As I said, it was a more laid-back era. Ecology hadn’t yet been discovered.

Today’s Yellowstone Park rangers felt a need to euthanize the baby buffalo which tourists brought to them in their SUV. Bottle feeding may not have saved the little calf’s life but many of us felt it would have been worth a try. Evidently from the Park’s standpoint that unnatural action must be avoided at all costs, even where the life of a baby buffalo is at stake.

It seems this summer has had an unusual number of incidents by stupid tourists. I use the word stupid deliberately. Ignorant means uninformed. Stupid means ignoring the warning signs and doing something that will remove you from the gene pool, such as falling into a boiling hot thermal.

Tourists, don’t take that extra step out on the edge to catch the perfect shot of the scenery. Don’t go off the boardwalks near thermal areas. Don’t pet a buffalo. Don’t run over a grizzly bear with your mountain bike. And don’t poke fun at us cowboys who call them buffalo instead of bison.

Heeding those words of advice may extend your stay on this planet.

Remember, “Life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”

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