The furry friends of Fermilab: Batavia’s bison on science’s frontier

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BATAVIA, Ill. -- Fermilab is the country’s premier particle physics and accelerator labs.  It’s home to some of the foremost scientists from around the world who study the smallest particles in the universe on some of the most advanced accelerators known to man.

But it’s also home to bison.

American Plaines Bison have roamed Fermilab’s lands now for nearly a half century, brought in 1969 by its first director Robert Wilson.  Wilson was from Wyoming and said science is the frontier.

They are arguably, lab employees and the public’s favorite attraction.

Dave Shemanske is Fermilab’s roads and grounds manager and said the bison are fast.

“They’re extremely fast,” he said. “They can run up to 25-30 miles per hour.  They’re not tame.  They’re extremely wild. They’re extremely protective of their newborns. The bulls can be aggressive at times.”

32 bison, including 14 calves, roam the grounds. In the hey day, 150 bison made up this herd, roaming 75 acres of land on the Batavia site.

They are fed and watered daily and given annual vaccinations. But at a max weight of 2500 pounds they are largely left to do their own thing behind a series of fences and enclosures.

Visited often by staff and the public, they are the largest but not the only animals which call this world renowned facility home.

“We have coyotes.  We have deer.  We have birds,” Shemanske said. “We have birders come in.  We have people who come in interested in the outdoors.  We have prairie restoration.  We have a 1000 acres of prairie. .. We’re a world class high energy physics laboratory.  We’re the best in the Midwest.  But I like to say as roads and grounds manager, we also have a world class environment.”

More information at Fermilab's website.

 

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