Column: The U.S. national mammal: Introducing the red dog

Inside the outdoors

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Arguably cuter than an Irish setter, unmistakably larger than a Vizsla, and with shorter ears than a bloodhound, this species of red dog is found in a 2,000-acre fenced habitat surrounded by intimidatingly large, fiercely protective mothers.

While closer to a shade of orange, these so-called “red dog” bison calves are thriving in Genesee Park’s buffalo herd overlook, enchanting visitors and motorists with their undeniable cuteness and charm. The calves, weighing 30-70 pounds at birth, usually appear in late March through May as miniature, albeit orange, versions of their parents.

Size does matter! Eventually, the 70-pound calf grows to be 2,000 pounds of full-grown bison. As the largest mammal species in the country, the bison was designated as the United States National Mammal in 2016. These animals may literally weigh a ton, but they can still run up to 35 mph on their short legs. Be sure to respect that tall fence at the park (stay three feet back, the sign states), especially if you see a bison raising her tail straight up, meaning she is feeling threatened. 

And no, not a buffalo! These animals are 100% “Bison bison bison!” (genus: Bison, species: bison, subspecies: bison). Bison are enjoying a resurgence in the United States after being hunted to near oblivion by hunters and settlers in the span of only 20 years during the 19th century. Down to a sparse 23 animals in the United States, the bison took refuge in Yellowstone National Park. 

Only two years after its creation in 1912, Genesee Park acquired bison and elk from the herds at Yellowstone Park, and Denver Mountain Parks took on a new role in helping maintain these two species, then nearing extinction. Additional bison were released in Daniels Park near Sedalia. 

Bison numbers have eventually grown to over half a million, mostly as domestic livestock. Other genetically pure and truly wild bison are found in Utah’s Henry Mountains, South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

In 2015, 10 animals, dubbed the Laramie Foothills Bison Herd, were released in Ft. Collins’ Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Raised in captivity but bred from the original Yellowstone bison, they are considered the first pure bison to occupy Colorado in 150 years.

The buffalo herd overlook animals no longer face the auctioneer, but a number of young bison are now sent to other captive herds, bringing with them pure bison genes that make the animals more valuable alive than when tucked into a hamburger bun.

Denver Mountain Parks and other stakeholders recently expanded and improved bison viewing at Genesee Park, adding viewing bridges and a bike path that winds along the northern section of the habitat from the Genesee exit to Evergreen. In just a few months, the young bison will begin to grow humps and horns, their fur will darken and they’ll be red dogs no more. 

The time to see red dogs in this orange/red phase is now, so get over to Genesee and Chief Hosa exits pronto! 

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