The red dog days of spring: Tours back open at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

bison

While not the dog days of summer, there are red dogs aplenty at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. With tours reopening, residents once again have the opportunity to visit the reserve and observe dozens of baby bison born on the reserve in the past weeks. Betty Redden, Friends of Maxwell director and president of the Board of Friends of Maxwell, said the baby bison tour last Saturday was one of the most well-attended she has seen as a volunteer, with just shy of 100 visitors between the two-time slots. “I was in shock. This is the largest revenue we’ve had with this particular tour. People were receptive. The gift shop, I’ve never seen so many people buy so many of those little stuffed bison,” she said. Redden said the isolation of COVID and the waning pandemic may be driving people to get out more. “I don’t know if everyone was euphoric they were able to get out and about, and everyone’s ready to do something. I was amazed. It was phenomenal, and we were really blessed,” she said. Tour guide and long-time volunteer and photographer Ken Stafford noted the baby bison tour on Saturday was filled in just 24 hours from reservations opening, and an extra tram was pulled from storage to accommodate visitors. Stafford said there was an enthusiasm on Saturday that was palpable. “It’s exciting for us as volunteers. There was excitement about what was going on, to see the baby bison. It was evident with all the people that stayed around after the first tram and second tram asking questions. We had a lot of fun,” he said. Stafford added, as a photographer, he saw many photo enthusiasts “all want to see what they’ve taken pictures of. Everyone wants to get the best picture.” The loaded trams, photo comparisons, along with the engagement during and after the tours, Stafford said, “It was a relief to be coming back to some reasonable semblance of life before 2020.” Bison, which breed in July, traditionally calve in March and April through early June. “But it depends on the quality of grasses. They breed better when they have quality nutrition. We’ve had babies as early as St. Patrick’s Day,” Redden said. In a typical year, between 50 and 60 calves are born on the reserve. Keeping a close eye on calving also helps with herd management, as older cows tend to have irregular breeding cycles and can drop calves in late fall and winter, with a much lower survival rate for the babies. “In the winter, the cows don’t have enough protein in their milk, so the babies essentially starve to death,” Stafford said. To prevent starvation, cows with late calves are sometimes sold as pairs at the November bison auction. Redden said bison calves are “cute” for a short period of time, as “everything grows terrifically fast on the prairie.” Born at between 25 and 30 pounds, bison calves are walking within an hour and begin to look like small adults with horns and humps by six months old. By one year old, calves weigh 15 times their birth weight. Stafford said giving tours is not just about seeing prairie animals as they live now on the reserve. “You can come out and see something extraordinary, as it was 200 years ago,” he said. Stafford said being able to see bison at all is a privilege, as the species was down to fewer than 100 individuals, split between Yellowstone and the Bronx Zoo, just over a century ago. “It’s about being able to get visitors out there. This is our roots. There’s so much history in the area. It’s not just the bison and the elk. It is a showcase of history,” Redden said. The Maxwell Refuge sits between the Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails, and near Coronado Heights. Redden and Stafford said the history of the area immediately surrounding Maxwell is a complex and brutal mix of Native Peoples, colonialism, international trade, agriculture, and preservation. “Our narrators don’t have a canned presentation. They’re full of different information, and we have different types of tours; there is something for everyone out here,” Redden said. “If you’re a historian, there’s more history here than almost anywhere else in the central states. If you’re a naturalist, there’s a nice area to work with plants and animals. If you’re a photographer and have a passion for taking pictures. We have people from all walks of life, teachers, engineers, ranchers,” Stafford said. Maxwell Bison Tours Reservations required Contact: maxwellwildliferefuge@gmail.com Minimum of 10 per tour (can include combined small groups) Cost per person: $15 Private tram rental: $150 Tour days: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

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