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The Journal Gazette

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Jennifer Amstutz, an interpretative naturalist, gives a lesson on the history of bison at Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.

  • Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Mixing the feed with molasses is like candy to bison, who flock to the feeding pen, giving visitors a close look.

  • Scott Richardson | The Journal Gazette Amstutz pours feed that is mixed with molasses to attract the bison to the viewing area.

Sunday, September 17, 2017 1:00 am

Behind the scenes

Getting up close to bison

National mammal roams 20 acres at Ouabache park

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Bison facts

• One bison needs five acres of land. There are 20 acres of land for the nine bison at Ouabache State Park.

• In the early 1800s, there were 60 million to 120 million bison in the U.S. By the late 1800s, there were about 100,000.

• A male bison can weigh up to a ton. A female can weigh between 1,200 to 1,500 pounds.

• A bison can run 35 mph and jump up to 6 feet high. (The fence at Ouabache is 8 feet.)

Behind the scenes

This monthly feature offers a peek at what takes place during production at area events or organizations.

It didn't take long for the herd to gather after the first bag was ripped open and poured into the wooden feeding pen.

However, it also didn't take long before the big, brown, hairy male – the dominant one in the group – began grunting and using his horns to shoo off everyone else so he can have the food all to himself.

The bison at Ouabache State Park in Bluffton don't need the pellets to survive, but it's like candy for the animals since it is mixed with molasses. It's a way to get them to come to the viewing pen so visitors can get an up-close look at the giant beasts.

On a chilly Labor Day morning, nearly 30 people gathered to hear Jennifer Amstutz, an interpretive naturalist, talk about the bison and how they came to live at Ouabache.

This was the last public feeding for the season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but visitors can always walk around the 20-acre area to see the bison, which stay outside all year long. The bison eat the plants and grass that are available on the property; in the winter, their food is supplemented with hay. They also have a pond as a water source.

There are currently nine bison at Ouabache – six males and three females. And although they will come up to the fence for visitors to view, they are very much wild animals, Amstutz says. So if you want to go home with all your digits, don't stick them through the fence to pet one, she says.

Prior to Ouabache becoming a state park, Amstutz says the property was managed by the Wells County State Forest and Game Preserve in the 1930s and '40s. The preserve had raccoons, rabbits, quail, bears and bison. Some of the bison are actually descended from those at Yellowstone National Park, she says.

When Amstutz isn't talking about bison, she is teaching kindergarten at Lancaster Elementary in Bluffton. This is her seventh season at Ouabache.

She learned about bison through research, watching documentaries and of course, observing them.