Catalina Island bison herd

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Bison on Catalina Island

The Catalina Island bison herd consists of American bison on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. In the 1920s to 1930s, several bison were brought onto Catalina Island for a movie. The bison are popular with the tourists and buildings have painted images of bison and bison weather vanes. Over the decades, the bison herd grew to as many as 600. The population currently numbers approximately 150.[1]

The bison herd is maintained and monitored by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Controlling the bison population is important for the island's ecological health. In the past, bison were routinely removed and sent to the mainland to auction.[1] In 2004, the Conservancy partnered with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Tongva (thought to be Catalina's original inhabitants some 7,000 years ago), and the Lakota tribe on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. A hundred bison were relocated to the Great Plains.[2]

Biologists found that the bison are not purebred; their ancestry includes genes from the cattle, as well as smaller size, different length of legs, jaw length overbite, low fertility, and behavioral problems (such as punctuated walking in tight circles).[3][2]

Bison are a non-native species on Catalina Island because they were not originally from there. Santa Catalina Island Conservancy makes sure that the number of bison on the island does not exceed the carrying capacity. Sweitzer's team conducted a study on the bison herd to estimate the carrying capacity of bison on several zones that the bison spend the most time in. They developed options to prevent the bison from affecting native species such as restricting bison to one or more zones or to get rid of all the bison from the island.[4]

The scientific study determined that a herd of between 150 and 200 would be good for the bison, and ecologically sound for the island. Beginning in 2009, the herd was given animal birth control to maintain the population at around 150 animals.[1]

With the herd numbering around 100 animals in 2020 and no new bison births in several years, Catalina Island Conservancy made the decision to introduce two pregnant female bison by the end of the year. The new additions will enhance the genetics of the current bison population on the Island.[5]

Over the first 20 years, 23 bison were moved to Catalina Island.[4] Registered as privately-owned agricultural livestock in a fenced-restricted area, it has been commonly reported that they were imported in 1924 for the silent film version of Zane Grey's Western tale, The Vanishing American.[1] However, the 1925 version of "The Vanishing American" does not contain any bison and shows no terrain that resembles Catalina, according to Jim Watson, columnist for The Catalina Islander newspaper. In an October 6, 1938 article in The Catalina Islander, he attributes the bison arrival to the filming of "The Thundering Herd," a silent film released in 1925.[6]

On August 26, 2015, a contract worker from American Conservation Experience was injured by a bison while working near Tower Peak on Catalina Island.[7] On February 17, 2018, a man camping at the Little Harbor Campground was gored by a bison.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Sahagun, Louis (November 20, 2009). "Catalina bison going on birth control". Los Angeles Times Times. Retrieved November 20, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Chang, Alicia (September 21, 2007). "Study: Catalina bison aren't purebred". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  3. ^ Vogel, AB; Tenggardjaja, K; Edmands, S; Halbert, ND; Derr, JN; Hedgecock, D (2007). "Detection of mitochondrial DNA from domestic cattle in bison on Santa Catalina Island". Animal Genetics. 38 (4): 410–2. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2007.01614.x. PMID 17573784.
  4. ^ a b Sweitzer, Rick; Constible, Juanita; Vuren, Dirk; Schuyler, Peter; Starkey, Frank (2005). "History, Habitat Use and Management of Bison on Catalina Island, California". 6th California Islands Symposium. Ventura, CA: Institute for Wildlife Studies – via ResearchGate.
  5. ^ "New Additions to Catalina Island Bison Herd" (PDF). Catalina Island Conservancy. October 13, 2020. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  6. ^ Watson, Jim. "Mysterious Island: Buffalo riddle solved?". The Catalina Islander. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  7. ^ Ruben Vives (August 26, 2015). "Bison attacks man taking photos on Catalina Island". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  8. ^ "Man gored by bison on Catalina Island". Orange County Register. February 18, 2018. Retrieved November 4, 2020.