HANNA CITY, Ill. (AP) — Anna Lynn spread her arms wide like a wall and stepped toward a couple of powerful bison twice her size Thursday morning, herding them into light holding areas after they were vaccinated at Wildlife Prairie State Park.
"They can be very strong," Lynn, an animal keeper at the park, said as she kept a record of the bison coming through the vaccination cells. "The bigger ones have been known to break through fences if they want. We haven't had any accidents."
The bison at the park have the ability to easily bowl over people, park officials said, but they don't because they are prey animals.
That's how students from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and representatives from the park and Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoos carefully got up close and personal with about 35 bison Thursday to vaccinate and keep track of them, a process done every year.
They also vaccinated and checked the park's elk population last week.
"State and federal regulation requires us to do this to have bison in the park," said the park's executive director, Doug Dillow, also explaining the benefits on the exchange of bison the Hanna City park does with other national parks to promote healthy genetics.
"It helps ensure the health of not just the bison, but the other animals."
Illinois veterinary medicine student Molly Baldes, a senior originally from Pekin, said the vaccinations are important for the health of the herd.
"We had to get through the furs for the vaccine," Baldes said. "If it maintains herd immunity, it protects the whole."
Because the bison are wild beasts, enclosed catch pens are unnatural to them, Dillow said. So park workers went out to the fields and herded the bison through a series of pens.
After gathering the bison from the fields, each one was briefly put through a three-chamber holding cell separated with fences, with the third level having side flaps where veterinary students quickly injected them with the vaccines.
They also poured a dewormer on top of each bison's back, which protects it against lice and other parasites.
The bison sometimes got jumpy, with the bigger ones rattling the enclosure and testing the strength of people working clamps in the cell. But they calmed down enough for the workers to inject the vaccines.
The vaccines include clostridium, leptospira and assorted viruses as well as basic vitamins, Illinois veterinary student Bill Tancredi said.
"It's worth the five minutes of stress for the bison," Tancredi said. "The vaccines are very important to keep them healthy."
Illinois veterinary medicine Professor Cliff Shipley said the college comes in the late fall or early winter every year because the park closes for the holidays and it's easier to work on the bison, even in near-zero temperatures.
The bison sometimes loses hair or breaks the tip of its horn and can be hurt, so having less people around is better," Shipley said, adding that the whole process is important for students to receive the rare experience of working with bison and elk.
"This was obviously very fun," said Tancredi, who expects to work with small animals after he graduates. "Bison are classic Americana, cowboys and Indians stuff. I might never get another chance to work with animals like this."
Source: (Peoria) Journal-Star, http://bit.ly/1c1vmyk
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com