Several years ago we headed to Tanzania to see animals and birds. We were actually surprised how exciting it was to see animals we’d never even heard of, much less recognized. We saw Syke’s monkeys and reedbucks, and many more. We either walked with our guides or piled into the Range Rovers, binoculars and cameras at hand. It was thrilling.
Now, we found ourselves studying the map of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was marked with an auto-route to observe animals. Oh, we thought, why not?! With binoculars and cameras in hand, we began our week-long visit to this great park.
We saw bison every day we were in the park. Now we take that for granted, but over a hundred years ago, almost all the bison in South Dakota had been hunted till only a few remained. One man, James “Scotty” Philip, an emigrant from Scotland who became a rancher in Pierre, South Dakota, was credited with saving the bison from extinction. He started with 5 rescued bison calves and added some 74 more to his herd in the late 1800’s. By the time he died in 1911, his herd numbered 1,000. “He was buried on a family cemetery near his buffalo pasture. As the funeral procession passed, some of the bison came down out of the hills. Newspapers of the time suggested the bison were ‘showing their respect to the man who had saved them.’” (Wikipedia)
In 1914, Custer State Park had purchased 36 Bison from the Scotty Philip’s herd near Pierre. In ten years the herd grew to 100 animals. In 1951, 60 bison were purchased from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation herd. Currently the bison population in the park has grown to 1,300.
We missed the elk – who, we were told, hid up in the hills to recover from too much motorcycle noise after the Sturgis Rally nearby. The ranger told us they’d be reappearing again in a week or so.
We appreciated the little sightings, too. On our hikes, we tried to be observant, knowing that creatures are there but may not always be in clear sight.
Whether in the car or on foot, we learned a few things on that safari in Tanzania about viewing animals in the wild. Distance, patience, and observation were key. Having binoculars and a camera along makes any sighting even better. Whenever we can see animals in the wild, it’s always a special event. Also, it’s nice when we can see animals in the wild a little closer than Tanzania.