Mesut Ates was still trying to bring in his herd of escaped bison on January 4, and he remained optimistic, if a bit exhausted. It looks like that optimism paid off as early the next day, six bison were finally corralled.
He and his volunteers, local people who have stepped up to encourage Ates and offer practical help, knew where the bison were. They had worked out a strategy of trying to work with the nature of the beast. “Basically, everything is kind of the same,” said the owner of The BisON Farm in Crystal Falls when interviewed on Jan. 4. The animals escaped on Dec. 16 when a windstorm felled a tree on the bison enclosure, taking down the fence. One bison was killed as the result of a vehicle collision, and the other seven made off into the bush. A call went out for assistance and numerous people with a variety of skills stepped up. Ates said, “We know where the animals are and we keep feeding them, and we set up our portable corral system. We are waiting for more snow, that they don’t go back into the bush. We want to lure them into the corral, I hope as soon as possible, but it might take a week or two.”
With a remarkable turn of fortune, the bison wandered into the corral on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 5. By the afternoon, the six captured bison were returned to the farm in Crystal Falls. An elated Ates returned to the field to reset the corral for the one outstanding bison. “I’m feeling great! I’m setting up the corral right now for the one bison still out there… I’m really relieved I got most of them, only one on the loose. It’s been hard work for all the community who put so much into this, and I’m happy to see they are successful.”
Ates had been sleeping in his car at the site. “I want to make sure they stay safe… So, I stay in the car… for now I’m tired, exhausted everyday; 5 a.m. I go and at nighttime I go. My animals are out there and they are always on my mind. I’m stressed but right now I am doing my best, and hopefully being optimistic and positive.” He explained that winter is almost a blessing. “They make that spot home. They are not going anywhere else. In the daytime they stay in the bush, and at night they come out into the field to the feed. That’s why I am optimistic because they have stopped traveling… I’m waiting for more snow and more cold, so they are not going to find [food] in the bush, so they will stay with my feed. So I can lure them into the corral, or maybe we can make a plan with a few people so they can take the snowmobiles and [herd] them into the corral. We don’t want to rush them; I can maybe try one more time with ATVs and snowmobiles to push them into the corral, but if we can’t be successful, they might go somewhere else – and all that set-up will be pointless. That’s why we don’t want to push them, stress them. …Slowly, slowly we will get them into the corral.”
Ates and his helpers worked with the natural behaviour of these undomesticated animals. Having a regular supply of forage helps them to nest in one location. “In summertime or springtime they would find food everywhere and maybe they would travel wherever they want, but right now, because its wintertime they want to stay where the food is.” He added that the bison did travel quite a bit, crossed Hwy 17 a few times, “but they didn’t stay because of the noise, or the traffic or some other kinds of stuff. They stopped at this spot because it’s quiet… this is their behaviour, they feel safe there, and maybe want to pass the winter there. That’s why I’m keeping the location quiet because I don’t want people to go into the field.” Ates says that while it’s natural for people to be curious, it was critical that he and his helpers kept the location secure from traffic in order to be successful.