Capture for Slaughter

A group of young buffalo enclosed in a fence, with people on a catwalk above looking on.
The National Park Service captures entire family groups of buffalo,
splitting mothers from their calves, and sends them to the slaughterhouses.

On the north side of Yellowstone National Park, in the Gardiner Basin, the Park Service runs the Stephens Creek capture facility (a buffalo trap). It is a massive, industrial strength facility that is basically a larger version of livestock corrals. Buffalo are often baited with hay or hazed into large outer pens of the trap by Park wranglers on horseback. As more buffalo are captured, they are moved into smaller and smaller pens. From there, buffalo are hazed into the interior of the trap where one by one they will be forced through a squeeze chute where they fight for their lives. Horns are often broken off as the Park employees attempt to close the chute on their necks.

Two national park service employees prod a buffalo with her head caught in a squeeze chute.

While in the squeeze chute Park biologists draw blood samples, weigh them, and check their teeth to determine their age. After a buffalo leaves the squeeze chute they are funneled through a labyrinth of fences that end in various pens.

The pens are sorted to hold yearlings together, adult females together, etc. The trap is the stuff of nightmares for buffalo. Moms and babies are separated, family groups are torn apart. The buffalo run around frantic, many covered in their own feces and blood from time in the squeeze chute, and some gored by other frightened buffalo.

A young buffalo bleeds from where their horn was torn off.

You hear the calves calling for their mothers, who they will never see again. The trap is the end of the line for wild buffalo. From the pens, the buffalo are crammed onto livestock trailers where they are hauled to slaughter facilities. Since 1996, more than 10 thousand of the country’s last wild buffalo have been shipped to slaughter facilities. Currently, the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have slaughter agreements with Yellowstone National Park. The buffalo are taken by CSKT representatives nearly 300 miles in a metal coffin on wheels to White’s Meats in Ronan, Montana. Other buffalo captured in the trap are set aside for quarantine purposes.

Read about the other tools of buffalo mismanagement.