Friday, April 24, 2009

This home on the range is a miserable swampland

Photo courtesy of Joe Bryska and the Winnipeg Free Press.

The floods submerging the Prairies have stolen hundreds of homes and lifetimes of possessions.

But the waters have also claimed voiceless victims: the animals.

Specifically, it is the herds of livestock that are in grave peril.

With drainage ditches plugged with ice, and water spreading unpredictably over flat land like an overturned glass of water on a table, it took just one day for the conditions to turn from potentially dangerous to full-out disastrous.

In Manitoba, hundreds of bison were stranded this week on the plains, miserably standing in cold water for days. The animals were forced to navigate muddy waters ranging from a few inches to five feet.

When floods roll in, people can bundle their dogs, cats and hamsters into carriers and get them out of danger. But what do you do with hundreds of massive animals? Full-grown bison can grow as heavy as 2,200 pounds.

"We have no opportunity to move them away from the area," said Balmoral farmer Bo Wohlers, who keeps a herd of 250 bison about 45 minutes north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the center of Canada. "The roads are in such bad shape that we can't bring trucks in, and we can't load them in the water. The animals are trying to stay in the shallow parts just to survive."

Feed is being brought in to the animals each day, but they continue to lose weight, Wohlers said.

Some have already succumbed to the harsh conditions.

"I know there's a couple dead for sure, and as the water goes down it wouldn't surprise us to find more," said Chris Murphy, another bison farmer from Balmoral.

It is only because of the bisons' hearty constitution that they have survived this long.

"These animals are constantly in the water," Wohlers said. "If this was cattle, they would be dead by now. It helps us that bisons are resilient getting through tough times, but time is running out."

Bison seek out the shallowest patches of water in an effort to survive. Photo courtesy of Joe Bryska.

No comments: