The Yellowstone National Park has initiated a criminal investigation into the release of bison from a quarantine facility. Early Tuesday morning, park officials discovered 52 bison missing. Park officials said the bison were able to leave the containment area through a cut fence, suggesting someone explicitly freed the bison.
The animals had been in containment for almost two years to ensure that they were free of brucellosis, a disease that can cause livestock to miscarry. The disease-free bison must be held for up to two years before they are certified as disease-free. Morgan Warthin, Yellowstone’s public affair specialist, said the hope was for these bison to be eventually transferred to the Fort Peck Tribe in northeastern Montana.
“We are hopeful that animals, whether it’s these animals that are missing or others, that after going through a quarantine process they will be able to be shipped alive to other tribal lands,” said Warthin.
But the park is unsure of what exactly what will happen, even if the bison do return.
“What we will be doing is working actively with the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners to come to or to find answers to some of those questions,” Warthin said.
No bison have been located. This is a setback for bison conservation as the park is unsure if the bison, even if returned, will be able to be transferred to the tribe. The animals were part of a program to establish new conservation and cultural herds of disease-free bison for Native Americans.