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Bison baby boom

During the past 14 months, six calves have been born at Hart Park, including one Friday night

Posted: July 12, 2008 11:20 p.m.
Updated: September 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A newborn calf walks the hills of William S. Hart Park, Saturday morning with its mother. The baby bison, born between Friday night and early Saturday morning, is the sixth bison born at the park since May 2007.

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Little furry, tan- and brown-colored creatures have been popping up at William S. Hart Park for the past year.

A few can bounce and hop while the others just lounge around the acres of their natural habitat.
In fact, one was added to the bunch Saturday morning.

They are the Newhall park’s six baby bison and since May 2007, the historical area has been seen a high number of births.

Debbie Pepe, park animal keeper, said while it is not unusual for bison to have so many young, having six at the park is something new.

“For this park, it’s a large number,” she said Saturday.

Pepe said the babies are in good shape, judging from their interactions with their mothers. All of the bison were born from different mothers, but share the same father, known by the park as four-year-old Bull No. 22, a big, dominant bison that leads the herd of 16.

As they get older, the light brown fur on the babies will develop into a deep brown, the typical color of bison.

Pepe said the newest baby was born sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning after a 9-month pregnancy. It will take some time for Pepe to identify the sex of the newborn.

“It’s healthy,” she said. “It’s been nursing from mom.”

Saturday morning, the newborn and mother were seen trotting up and down the natural hills that surround Hart Park.

Pepe considers it normal behavior for a mother to isolate her newborn from the rest of the herd because the pair is considered vulnerable. While there are no real threats to the bison population in the park’s 25 acres of enclosed natural space, Pepe said the mom still pays attention to her instincts.

The babies, which will stay at the park for their entire lives, are kept on a strict routine with feeding in the early morning, bonding time with the mother and lounging and sleeping time. Their diets consist of hay, salt blocks and constant supplements.

However, Pepe said the babies and the rest of the herd are aware of the pecking order.

“Everyone has their space,” she said, with father bull leading the group.

However, if too many bison are brought into the area, it could lead to problems. That’s one of the reasons why Pepe said the bulls are castrated, a routine procedure at the park.

Pepe said there will most likely not be any more baby bison born because Bull No. 22 was castrated in December 2007.

Park visitors are able to see the babies from the bison viewing area, located off the trail that starts from the park’s main parking lot.

Pepe, who is a licensed vet technician and has worked at the park for nearly three years, considers having the bison at the park to be a learning experience for children.

“It really is a rare opportunity,” she said.

The next closest park for bison would be Yellowstone, she said.

Working at Hart Park has special meaning for Pepe, too.

“I’ve been coming to this park when I was a kid in the stroller,” Pepe said, adding she is still a Newhall resident.

With the bison viewing area, Pepe said families are able to get a “one-on-one experience” with the animals.

Along with the bison, Pepe said they have dozens of other animals, ranging from horses, pigs and chickens.

However, they are not on display because construction on a new animal pen continues.

“Mr. Hart loved animals and that’s why we have animals here,” she said, referring the William S. Hart, the movie star who lived in what is now the museum during the 1920s and 1930s.

And showing kids the beauty of animals will pay off in the future, too.

“If they are exposed when they are younger, they will help them when they are older,” she said, noting that’s how she got involved with animals.


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