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Yellowstone Park Bison Escape Prompts Criminal Investigation

Bison at the Stephens Creek Capture facility north of Yellowstone Park in 2015.
Jim Peaco (CC-BY-2)
Bison at the Stephens Creek Capture facility north of Yellowstone Park in 2015.

Yellowstone National Park has opened a criminal investigation to determine how more than 50 of its bison escaped through a cut fence at a quarantine facility. Authorities say it appears somebody cut the fence with bolt cutters.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke calls the incident “devastating.”

The park says it’s aggressively investigating the incident.

“This is an absolute egregious criminal act,” says Yellowstone spokesperson Morgan Warthin.

Tuesday morning, she says park officials discovered bison held at the Stephens Creek facility near Gardiner were gone.

The bison had been in containment for nearly two years to assure they were free of brucellosis, a disease that can cause livestock to miscarry. Afterwards, they would be shipped to places like the Fort Peck Reservation in an effort to help save the animals from what’s become an annual and controversial slaughter of bison in the nation’s oldest national park.

Yellowstone officials say the animals’ release is a setback.

"It really, it delays the critical ongoing discussions about the quarantine program — this idea of being able to ship live bison to other conservation areas — and it delays the transfer of live bison to tribal land,” Warthin says.

As of Wednesday evening, none of the 52 bison that escaped had been found. Park officials are asking anyone with tips to call 307-344-2132. 

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