BOZEMAN, Mont. — A rare chance to see both the outside and the inside of a bison was offered to those who attended the International Bison Conference July 4-7.
Dr. Don Woerner, a veterinarian from Billings, Montana, owns Ernie, a bison mounted so that it has its own hide and usual appearance on one side and an exposed skeleton on the other.
The bison was the focus of much interest while on display at the convention site in Big Sky and again at Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch near Bozeman.
The display came about after Woerner acquired two bison from an animal sanctuary that had lost its funding. The animals were being loaded for shipment elsewhere when they got loose.
“A loose bison in Montana doesn’t have a very long lifespan,” said Woerner.
As a veterinarian, he had the skills and equipment to tranquilize the animals, and when things didn’t work out at their intended destination, he ended up keeping them for a year and a half.
He called them Bert and Ernie.
The two animals were fine there for a time, but Woerner sought alternatives.
While visiting a museum, he saw a model of a dinosaur with its skeleton exposed on one side.
“I thought, well, maybe that’s the best thing to do with these, because they were kind of eating me out of house and home and they’re not exactly a pet on an eight acre piece of ground,” he said. “It really wasn’t fair to have them there.”
Ray Hatfield, a taxidermist in Cody, Wyoming, mounted both bison. Woerner said one of them, Bert, is in the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, although he’s heard it may be shipped for display in China.
Ernie is making the rounds with Woerner, who has a mobile showcase of bison artifacts and information.