CUSTER, SD -
The herd is ready to run at Custer State Park ahead of the annual Buffalo Roundup, which starts Monday. Preparations at the park are well underway for the animals and the visitors.
The roundup is one of the largest draws for tourists in the state. But the yearly event serves a more practical purpose for the park.
Around 1,200 bison call Custer State Park home. More than a thousand of them will wow spectators at the 47th Annual Buffalo Roundup.
"It's become one of the largest single day events for the state of South Dakota as far as tourism," Custer State Park's bison herd manager Chad Kremer said.
Last year's roundup drew in more than 14,000 spectators. And with numbers like that it's easy to forget that the roundup's real purpose is herd management.
"They're free ranging year around on the range here. So we need to maintain numbers within the carrying capacity of the habitat here to support those," Custer State Park's resource program manager Gary Brundige said.
Park staff will cull hundreds of bison from the herd in the weeks after the roundup for sale at the buffalo auction this November.
"Total surplus sales this year will be about 250 to 300 head," Kremer said.
Over the past 47 years, the auction has played a huge role in revitalizing the overall buffalo population.
"Between 15,000 and 20,000 live animals to provide seed stock or support for breeding stock for ranchers across North America," Brundige said.
"They kind of call the park, here, the birthplace of the buffalo business or industry," Kremer said.
But to the thousands of people who will pack into the park for Monday's roundup, that may play second fiddle to the magnanimous rumble of a thousand buffalo.
The park was planning on selling fewer buffalo in an effort to build up the herd's numbers, which is typically closer to 1,500 head. But that's changed due to the summer's drought conditions.
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