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Addressing our relationship with the buffalo, Buffalo Field Campaign co-founder Lakota Elder Rosalie Littler Thunder once said, “human beings have forgotten their purpose.” Indeed, those who work for Yellowstone National Park have certainly forgotten theirs: to preserve [wild buffalo], unimpaired, for present and future generations.”

One hundred and fifty of America’s last wild buffalo were certainly “impaired” this week, having endured the hells of Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek capture facility. For some, this nightmare journey is still underway.

Inside Yellowstone's Stephens Creek bison trap. Photo credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign
Inside Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek bison trap. Photo credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign

On Tuesday and Wednesday, in response to a public access lawsuit, Yellowstone National Park granted a media tour of their Stephens Creek trap. Mike Mease and I attended on behalf of the Buffalo Field Campaign. What we saw will give us nightmares, but it is critical for us to be here to get a brief glimpse of what goes on in this area Yellowstone hides from the public.

Captive buffalo were run through the gauntlet of a fortified livestock corral, “worked” in a squeeze chute called the “Silencer,” where their blood was drawn, their teeth were checked for age and where they were weighed, tagged and “released” to flee down a long, dusty corridor where they were separated by age and sex and forever torn from their families. As you read this they are in the process of being shipped to slaughter.

Park wranglers haze buffalo deeper into Yellowstone's trap. Photos credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign
Park wranglers haze buffalo deeper into Yellowstone’s trap. Photos credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign

Tuesday morning, beginning at the break of dawn, 75 frightened and confused wild buffalo were run through this house of horrors; early Wednesday morning 30 female buffalo from this group were crammed onto two livestock trailers hired by the InterTribal Buffalo Council and shipped to the slaughterhouse. Later that same morning, the remaining 75 buffalo endured the same mistreatment. On Thursday morning, 63 more buffalo went to slaughter, with another 75 calves and yearlings are being held “just in case” Yellowstone’s 50 bison quarantine plan is approved.

The noise in the trap was deafening. Buffalo were slamming against the walls, ramming into each other and bellowing in fear or to find family members. The sounds they made with their voices and their bodies took over everything. They were crammed into the trap’s “bull pen,” where park wranglers on catwalks—silent for the media tour, but normally “yipping” and hollering—jabbed and prodded them from above, forcing them to move to desired locations and where pushed into “the Silencer.”

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