Buffalo calf startles resort guests; yet another rescue attempt fails

By Matthew J. Perry
The orphaned buffalo calf that has toured eastern Delaware County for the better part of a month showed up Monday evening at the Blue Deer Center on county Route 6 near Margaretville. After an extended attempt at capture, it moved on and remains at large.
Patrick O’Rourke, the director of the center, called state police after some of his guests appeared with news of an extraordinary sighting.
“They said, ‘you’re not going to believe this, but a buffalo just walked in front of our car,” O’Rourke said. He called 911, he said, on the advice of Colleen Segarra, director of Equine Reserve Resource, who was quoted last week in the Catskill Mountain News.
Within half an hour two state troopers and a county sheriff’s deputy had arrived on the scene. These officials in turn summoned Roxbury Constable Steve Williamson, who is often consulted in matters of escaped livestock.
O’Rourke and his guests tried to keep the calf calm by throwing it carrots, apples and hay. After he arrived, Williamson attempted to approach the calf on his hands and knees for over half an hour, according to witnesses.
“The calf was grazing; it wasn’t agitated,” the O’ Rourke said.
Eventually Williamson and a group of residents backed the calf up near a high hedge. When a rope was brought in to cordon off an escape route, it bolted and eventually crossed a nearby county road onto state owned land.
Meanwhile, Dan Sprinkles, who lives next to the Blue Deer Center, called Denise Norris, a volunteer with a local task force that has been tracking the calf since its escape.
Ms. Norris arrived on the scene after the calf had escaped Mr. Williamson. By this time it was nearly seven o’clock and the state troopers and sheriff had left the scene. Mr. Williamson and Ms. Norris exchanged words, after which Ms. Norris and an unidentified man pursued the calf as it ascended a hillside and Mr. Williamson departed. The calf disappeared before more members of the task force could arrive to aid Ms. Norris.
“The calf appeared to be in good condition,” Ms. Norris said afterwards. “There were scrapes and scratches on its coat but no open sores. It seems to be doing what a bison ought to be doing.”
Since neither Williamson nor Norris had time to gather sufficient resources or back-up, capturing the calf was unlikely. Both stated that the ideal method of capture would be to create a makeshift pen around the calf before sedating it. But neither one acknowledged the authority of the other in this unusual hunt for an animal that was imported to the region.
Both later asserted that the calf is a wild animal and cannot be handled as if it were a domestic farm animal. Ms. Norris also pointed out that rope should not be used to catch the calf by the throat because of the risk of serious injury to the animal.
“Its larynx is very soft,” she said. “It’s not like a cow that way.”
The key point of contention between the two seemed to be who had authority to take charge of the capture effort.
“It was our understanding when the group was formed that we would be the focal point for the effort of finding the calf,” Ms. Norris said. “We’re not experts on bison, but we took the time to consult experts and animal welfare advocates and to come up with the best approach to capture.” Ms. Norris also stated that her group has plans for the calf’s welfare should it be brought in unharmed.
Both Norris and Williamson expressed compliance with New York State Agriculture and Markets Law that declares escaped animals can be taken in the custody only of a police officer or a designated official. Their disagreement hinged on which of them should act as the deputized official in the matter.
Sergeant Andy Leahy of the state police stated that the troopers would call in the task force for help, but said that they would defer to anyone—including the calf’s original owner—who can capture the animal safely and arrives with the means to do so.
“We’re primarily concerned with keeping it off the road and away from people,” he said.