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Years ago, there was popular song titled ‘You can’t roller skate in a Buffalo herd’. (Really. Look it up. It was a different time.). In that unique 70’s way, the songwriter was probably trying to say that what initially appears to be a good idea might need a little more thought to achieve the same results. But that would have been harder to rhyme. Aside from making the common mistake of referring to the American Bison (Bison bison) as a buffalo – while the only actual buffalo are the African Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), both naturally living outside North America – the song offers good advice for anyone considering traveling through a group of animals that are six feet tall, weigh more than a ton, can often be near-sighted and at the same time quick to attack anything they can’t identify. Or don’t particularly like the look of. But more than a typical tidbit of ungulate advice, the song might be saying you can’t roller skate among these bulls and cows (as bison males and females are named) because they stand their ground and almost nothing can make them move: Not even a lightning storm. Or, actually getting hit by lightning.

The Tallgrass Prairie – a uniquely North American ecosystem historically reaching from the upper Midwest to the southwestern plains, and from Texas into Canada – is largely made up of grass, grass-like plants, and endless miles of relatively flat landscape. Land that, until the great western migration of settlers from the eastern states, had grown lush and rich through thousands of years of storm and drought; tornado and unstirring quiet; burning summer heat and freezing blizzards; and fire. Because fire, caused by lightning storms, is the only natural event that both destroys and restores the prairie, removing thick undergrowth, creating deep, rich soil (some of the most rich, productive soil in North America), and providing opportunities for new plant growth.

As far as we know the lightning strike didn't cause Sparky to travel forward, or back, to the future.

As far as we know the lightning strike didn’t cause Sparky to travel forward, or back, to the future.

Today, only a fraction of the 240 million acres of Tallgrass remains, and much of that is preserved or restricted. In those areas, the descendants of animals that thrived in this environment still live: The Prairie Dog (genus Cynomys); Coyote (Canis latrans); and of course, the Bison are only a few of the specialized animals that have learned to survive this unforgiving environment. So it’s no surprise to the scientists, researchers, and rangers who study, monitor and protect these remaining lands when in the summer of 2013 at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa an adult male bison was found that had been struck by lightning. Though alive and in comparatively fair health – for an animal that had been hit by one of the most powerful natural forces known – the Bison was weak, thin, burned over a large part of his body and was feared would not be able to survive long. While difficult to observe, it was decided to allow ‘Sparky’ – as he was named – to live out his remaining life in freedom on the plains he knew, rather than in a veterinary clinic, and Sparky was left alone. The real surprise came over two years later, when Sparky was again sighted – now having gained many pounds, looking healthy, and while bearing the scars of his ‘shocking’ experience, looking much as anyone would expect an adult male bison to look.

Which makes us wonder, if a bison can survive a lightning strike – along with other animals who persevere, and sometimes even make a comeback, in what remains of their native environment; or when transplanted into other, similar environments; or even living among us in our cities and neighborhoods; with little or no help from man and often overcoming huge challenges due to man – maybe nature, when left alone and undisturbed, can get along just fine without the intercession or interference of man. And our responsibility is to just find someplace else, to do our roller skating.


Michonne Says: This story is just another reason to live around rocks and go underground because the fire-stripes that men call ‘light-en-eng’ can’t get into rocks OR go underground. I don’t know how big these bisons are, but they would be smart to dig burrows and stay away from the fire-stripes. I don’t know why they haven’t thought of that themselves

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