California's Catalina Island Bison Bring Tourists, Concern

12 July, 2017

Did you know bison live on a small island off the coast of California?

Bison are large mammals native to the United States. They are also known as buffalo.

People usually see bison in places like Yellowstone National Park, which covers parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

In 2016, the bison was named the official mammal of the United States.

But how did these large animals, known for living in the northern part of the United States, get to a small island southwest of Los Angeles?

Well, like many things related to Los Angeles, it had to do with Hollywood and the movie business.

Julie King is the director of conservation and wildlife management at the Catalina Island Conservancy. She said 14 bison arrived on the island in 1924.

The animals were supposed to be a part of a movie. They did not get into the movie and were left behind by the filmmakers.

The bison have now lived on the island for almost 100 years. At one time, there were about 600 of them. That is because they had no predators, such as large cats, wolves, bears and humans. Now, due to birth control and a conservation plan, there are only 120 on the island.

At one time, the bison of Catalina Island numbered as many as 600. Since then, almost 500 have found new homes on Native American reservations.
At one time, the bison of Catalina Island numbered as many as 600. Since then, almost 500 have found new homes on Native American reservations.

The Catalina Island Conservancy takes care of the bison herd.

When there are too many animals, they are moved to other parts of the U.S. Some of the bison from Catalina were moved to Native American lands in North and South Dakota. Bison used to live there, but had not been seen in those areas for 100 years.

You can now find bison in every state, but in the late 1800s, they almost completely disappeared.

The bison on Catalina are smaller than the ones on the mainland. That is because they are not native. There are fewer grasses on the island than in places like Montana.

King said the animals do not get the right nutrition on the island. They do not really belong there. But they have become well-known, and people visit the island just to see them.

Debbie Rosen likes the bison so much, she wrote a children's book about them. It is called The Amazing Adventures of Beebee the Bison.

Her husband, Howie, helped write the book. He said the bison are now part of the island.

But King, a scientist, said she would rather not see even one bison on the island. She said the island's largest native plant-eater should be a squirrel, "not an 1,800-pound (800 kilogram) herbivore."

Debbie Rosen said the fact that the bison survived on the island for so long says a lot about why they were so important to the United States.

"They were forced to adapt," she said. "So that's an example of their resilience and why they're such a fitting symbol for our country, because the American people are resilient people."

King said scientists, conservationists and the people who love the bison are trying to find a compromise that satisfies everyone involved.

I'm Dan Friedell.

Elizabeth Lee wrote this story for VOANews. Dan Friedell adapted her report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

Will you go visit the bison someday? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

mammal – n. an animal with hair that feeds its young milk

conservation – n. the protection of plants, animals and natural resources

predator – n. an animal that hunts and eats other animals

herdn. a group of large animals that live or are kept together such as cattle

nutritionn. the right things to eat for good health

herbivoren. an animal that only eats plant material

adapt - v. to change one's behavior

resilience - adj. of or related to the ability to recover from something