Loose bison in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory were headed for greener pastures, says rancher

Tempted by the greener pastures of a neighbouring field, four bison escaped their enclosure earlier this week in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, 200 kilometres east of Toronto, and three are still on the loose.

Leaf LeFort, a Kanien'kehá:ka rancher in Tyendinaga, said due to their immense size, the bison were able to push on a fence to climb over it.

"They just saw some fresh green grass and they wanted to go and explore, so there was a couple bison that jumped out," he said.

LeFort has a herd of 95 bison and said he's in the process of getting a larger pasture for them and supplements their diet with additional hay.

Tyendinaga Mohawk Police issued a warning to drivers and said not to approach or try to push the animals from their location because their behaviour is "unpredictable."

A post by Tyendinaga Police Service on Thursday warning people not to approach bison.
A post by Tyendinaga Police Service on Thursday warning people not to approach bison. (Tyendinaga Police Service/Facebook)

LeFort said some people approached the animals or were trying to get pictures and the bison were spooked into a wooded area, making it harder for him to corral them.

He said the bison don't pose a threat unless they're cornered or people bother them.

"I wouldn't say they're aggressive animals, but they're definitely very physical with each other and they're big."

Leaf LeFort, Kanien'kehá:ka from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, has been raising buffalo for about a year.
Rancher Leaf LeFort, seen here with cattle, has been raising bison on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory for about a year. (Submitted by Leaf LeFort)

'Rez buffalo'

Debbie Maracle said she had heard there were bison on the loose in Tyendinaga and was surprised to see one in her yard.

"My dogs were going berserk," she said.

Reegan Maracle said she was driving home late from her mother's home on the reserve when she noticed the animals.

"I saw like these black figures or brownish black figures," she said.

"And I saw just like their hooves…And then I slowed down and then I realized, 'Oh my gosh, there's three buffalo in front of me.'"

She said she put on her high beams and the bison ran back to LeFort's property.

She said she recently travelled across Canada where she encountered bison on the side of the road in northern British Columbia and Yukon.

It's been exciting for people in the community to see buffalo roaming, she said. A social media post jokingly referred to Tyendinaga having "rez buffalo" rather than "rez dogs."

But she said people still need to respect the bison.

"The most important thing is, I think, respecting their personal space like any other human, any other being," she said.

"I personally don't want to be touched unsolicited and I think it goes the same for any animal."

Bison dangers

Monica Braine, who is Assiniboine and Lakota and an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana, said bison are sacred to her people and they provide food, shelter and clothing.

"They're particularly important to many tribes, not just mine," she said.

She has a side hustle selling T-shirts playfully targeting people who get too close to bison in places such as Yellowstone National Park in Montana — despite warnings from the park.

One of Monica Braine's designs available on Etsy.
One of Monica Braine's designs. (Monica Braine)

One person was sent to hospital earlier this month after being gored by a bison at Yellowstone.

Braine jokingly refers to this time of year as "petting season."

She said she made her first shirt after a woman got too close to bison at Custer State National Park in South Dakota. One bison charged, caught her jeans on one of its horns and dragged her out of her pants. Video of the incident was widely circulated on social media along with memes.

Braine admits bison look "friend-shaped" or like they might be fun to hug because they're fluffy, but that people need to respect the sheer power of the animal.

"We laugh at it, but it's also sad. It's so sad, every year, 'cause I'm like 'Did you not see the signs?'"

She said a friend who worked at Yellowstone witnessed a parent putting a child on the back of an elk for a photo.

"People think they know better than the experts or that they have some special magical connection with these animals, or they just don't have common sense," she said.