Group asks public for help naming bison bulls

The five animals were recently introduced to the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area

Sturgill? Lefty? Dwight? The names of these outlaw country singers could soon be shared by five bison bulls recently introduced to Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation area in southwestern Saskatchewan.

The five bulls, all born in 2017, will join the herd of 84 bison that already roams the 13,000-acre site, which is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Now they need names.

Through a survey conducted through Twitter, the public determined the bulls should be named after outlaw country singers, as opposed to Looney Tunes characters or action movie stars.

Suggestions can be sent to Saskatchewan@natureconservancy.ca.

“This was just kind of a fun, cheeky thing to do just to introduce everybody to the new bulls,” said NCC southwestern Saskatchewan program director Michael Burak.

“Now either we’ll put it out to the public to make suggestions within that category or maybe just go about choosing the top five that the staff think. Then we’ll probably reintroduce these individuals with their new names after that. But we would welcome suggestions at this point.”

Two of the bulls came from a Shellbrook, Sask., bison producer, two from a producer in central Alberta and the fifth from nearby Shaunavon. All were genetically tested to ensure pure Plains breeding.

Their introduction is part of a new management plan for the herd, said Burak. It was initially established in 2003 with 50 two-year-old bison — 25 females and 25 males — from Elk Island National Park. Since all were the same age, the herd does not have the age variation that would have been created had it been a truly wild herd like those of centuries ago.

“With this new management plan, we’re looking to move more toward kind of simulating, to the extent that we can … more of a natural herd similar to the way the Grasslands National Park and Elk Island National Park and some of the other conservation herds manage their animals. We’re hoping to even out our age-class structure,” Burak said.

The new bulls will add genetic diversity to the existing herd, he added. Over time and with periodic selection and sale of some animals, the herd is expected to achieve greater age as well as genetic diversity.

The other bulls in the herd don’t have names, said Burak. An older bull no longer in the herd was once dubbed Hank, but otherwise the beasts are nameless.

“We haven’t really bothered to name them. We don’t see them very often and normally a lot of the bulls won’t come in for roundup because they’re kind of too smart.”

A promotion to name new animals is a way to acquaint the public with the conservation area, the herd and the project to conserve native grasslands.

Burak said a University of Saskatchewan project now underway is designed to compare bison grazing with cattle grazing. The conservation area has 4,000 head of cattle grazing on its property in areas separate from the bison.

“They’ve been doing a lot of different plant and health assessment type of work, and data collection out there, that we’re hoping to get the results of right away, just for our own interest. And we are updating the management plan for the property at the same time, so we’ll be able to get a better idea of exactly how healthy the grass is.”

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