PEI

Buffalo baby boom brings P.E.I. park's herd to 56

Last year, only one calf was born at P.E.I.'s Buffaloland Park. This year there were five — all due to one bull who has managed to elude castration.

Herd no longer culled since Buddhist group took over, and neutering has been a challenge

Five calves were born at Buffaloland Park in Milltown Cross, P.E.I., this spring. (Shane Ross/CBC)

There's been a buffalo baby boom this spring in Milltown Cross, P.E.I.

Last year, only one calf was born at Buffaloland Park, but this year there were five, said Floyd Sanderson, the operations manager for Moonlight International Foundation, a registered charity that runs the park.

"That number was surprising to us for this year, but it's something that's like the weather, you can't control," he said.

No more culling the herd

There are now 56 buffaloes roaming the park, up from about 38 when the provincial government handed over control to Moonlight four years ago.

The buffaloes roam around on about 40 hectares of property. (Shane Ross/CBC)

The government used to manage the herd by an annual cull where they'd be used for meat, said Dr. David Lister, a veterinarian at New Perth Animal Hospital who has looked after the buffaloes for several years.

But because Moonlight International, a Buddhist organization, does not believe in killing animals, Lister said the population is now managed by castrating the bulls instead of culling the herd. 

"They basically would be allowed a natural death," Lister said.

'Distinctly not friendly'

But castrating a bull — removing its testicles — has proven easier said than done.

"They might seem friendly if you're over along the fence .... but no, they are distinctly not friendly and not to be trusted and can be dangerous," Lister said.

"They're not the easiest animal to work with that way because they get very stressed and they don't respond well to stress. They're still are a wild animal so they certainly aren't predictable."

The calves will start to get a darker coat in about two or three months, says veterinarian Dr. Dave Lister. (Shane Ross/CBC)

There is now only one bull old enough to breed at the park who hasn't been castrated, and he fathered all five of the calves this spring. A few years ago they tried to neuter him, but the tranquilizer wasn't strong enough, Lister said.

The one male there has eluded capture on two or three attempts with us.— Dr. David Lister

Since then, they've had difficulty corralling him. And because males and females look similar, it's even hard to identify him from a distance.

"If you happen to catch them urinating you can tell that way," he said.

More calves likely

Until they manage to neuter the elusive bull, there will likely be more baby booms at Buffaloland.

Aaron Elsinga says he used to visit the buffalos when he was a growing up in Lower Montague. Now he brings his own children, Sutton, right, and Bridget. (Shane Ross/CBC)

"Our intention was to neuter everybody and hold it at that for a few years and maybe get an outside male in," Lister said. "But the one male there has eluded capture on two or three attempts with us."

Lister said it's important the mothers of the calves stay healthy because, unlike cattle, a female buffalo won't allow cross-fostering.

"With cattle, they will allow several calves to nurse them, whether it's their own or another. But with buffalo, it doesn't happen, it's the mother's calf only."

'Less problems with males fighting'

Castrating the bulls has led to a calmer, safer environment within the the herd, Lister said.

Lister says the buffaloes' behaviour can be unpredicatable. (Shane Ross/CBC)

"The herd is quieter, less problems with males fighting, cause the odd one used to get badly injured or gored. We've had a lot less problems with that since we neutered most of the males."

Lister said the buffaloes are healthy and well-cared for. He said the 40-hectare property is large enough to accommodate all of them, especially since they are fed hay and silage provided by local farmers year-round, as well as the grass from the pasture in the summer.

Supported by global Buddhist community

Sanderson said he is thankful for the support of the local farmers, which helps keep costs down as the population increases.

Operations manager Floyd Sanderson says Moonlight International hopes to someday build an interpretation centre at Buffaloland. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Since there is free admission to the park, expenses for food, wages and vet bills are paid through donations.

"And that predominantly comes from the Buddhist people globally," Sanderson said. "We have a lot of donations that come from Asia and other parts of Canada and the United States."

Buffaloland has been a tourist attraction on P.E.I. since the 1970s, when the buffalos came as a gift from the Alberta government.

Moonlight International stepped up in 2014 when the P.E.I. government was looking to offload the park. At the time, the government said it was spending up to $40,000 a year in operating costs.

Sanderson said if the budget allows, Moonlight International hopes to one day open an interpretive centre at Buffaloland, to give indoor tours on days when the weather is bad.

"In eastern P.E.I., for us it's something that we all know," Sanderson said. "So it's nice that we can maintain something like this."

In the summer, with the heat and the flies, the best time to see the buffaloes is early morning or in the evening when they tend to come out into the open, Lister says. (Shane Ross/CBC)
Unlike cattle, female buffaloes generally will allow only their own calves to nurse from them, Lister says. (Shane Ross/CBC)
Moonlight International Foundation, a registered charity run by a Buddhist group, took over control of Buffaloland Park from the provincial government in in 2014. (Shane Ross/CBC)

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Corrections

  • The story originally stated that the buffalo were in Newtown Cross. The buffalo are actually in Milltown Cross.
    Jul 14, 2018 2:01 PM AT

About the Author

Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.