Two delayed bison reach Popof Island

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Transportation problems delayed two female bison meant to diversify the gene pool of the Popof Island herd, but Abigail and Kelly have arrived.

The bison had been at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. They were selected, tested for disease and tagged at the center before making the trip from Portage to Homer in a 20-foot trailer for their planned Sept. 15 departure.

Their cruise, however, was postponed when the vehicle lift on the state ferry Tustumena malfunctioned. The bison were trucked back to Portage while the ferry awaited parts, repairs and final inspection.

Concerns about inbreeding prompted Shumagin Village Corp. to work with the conservation center to bring new blood to the island more than 500 miles southwest of Anchorage, The Dutch Harbor Fisherman newspaper reported.

"Shumagin has been working to get new bison on Popof Island for most of the summer, and it has been a goal to add to the herd for a couple of years," said Marita Gundersen, Shumagin Corp. manager. "The process has been long."

The bison, who finally made it to Popof Island this week, are semi-wild even though they've been raised in captivity. Kelly, who is pregnant, weighs roughly 1,000 pounds. Abigail weighs about 650.

"The younger one is a little less aggressive than the older one," said Dr. Jerry Nybakken, the veterinarian who accompanied the bison on the trip. "But I wouldn't open the door and step in front of either one. They're not like cows, they react as wild animals."

In the past three years, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has provided plains bison to start herds on Umnak Island in the Aleutians and Stevens Village in the Interior, said Mike Miller, executive director and founder of the conservation center.

Popof Island has a resident herd, believed to have arrived on the island in 1951 when one male and two female plains bison leapt off an oceangoing barge. The females made it to land, and one gave birth to a male calf the following spring, providing the tenuous start to a herd that now numbers between 150 and 180.

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