FRANKFORT — After the Salato Wildlife Center staff left work last Thursday night and before they got to work Friday morning, a bison named "Cow Number 4" decided she'd have her baby in peace without them. Not that the staff interferes much with the bison but the herd of five, now six, are kept safe and healthy by a watchful care and veterinary staff.
Still, "they're the most dangerous animals out here," says Tim Slone, director of information and education at the center.
The 50-pound bull calf just showed up "on the ground" when the doors opened Friday.
The center originally reported that a second calf was born later that morning and that "several hundred" had watched the second calf drop. That was in error, says Slone, expressing embarrassment. The mother was passing the placental sac.
By Wednesday, the new calf was already familiar with the herd paddock and with his doting mama and three surrogate aunties. When the baby, rust-colored and small in comparison to his 1,000-pound mama and 1,500-pound dad, came tripping along into the huddled bunch of grown-ups, they took turns licking his face. "They're very social animals," says Slone.
The baby lies down in the tall spring grass for a few minutes while trying to keep a low profile against the prying eyes of predators. But, near noon, he is anxious to walk around behind his mother, with his tail swishing fast and furious.
Another female bison is due to give birth any minute. She's hard to pick out with the naked eye, which makes the mounted binoculars on the covered viewing platform helpful. (FYI: Cow Number 4 is missing an ear tag.) The bison, deceptive in size when seen from a distance, stand 5 to 6 feet tall at the shoulders. Their strength is legendary.
And they absolutely belong on this land, having grazed here and wintered here on the grasslands of Kentucky until as late as 1800. They are not buffalo. True buffalo, say the center's informational signs, are native to Africa and Asia. And they are unlike the herds of bison that roamed the western United States. It's likely that Cow Number 4's baby has been given a name by the wildlife staff, Slone says, but he's not telling if he knows it. "Wildlife aren't pets. They shouldn't be given names."
That is, unless you're the bobcat Blue, the official University of Kentucky mascot who lives just over the rise from the bison with his live-in sweetheart, Scarlett.
Some exceptions are made for exceptional animals.
No one has told Cow Number 4's baby this yet.