As many as 30 people were carefully combing through woods and fields in western Schoharie County on Wednesday in search of 11 bison that escaped from a farm Monday.
Farmer Tim Hines said Wednesday it was unclear how the massive vegetarians got out of their enclosure. Volunteers found them and then lost them again during the day.
“We have a lot of people helping. … We just have to find them,” said Hines, who said he had little time to talk while the search was on.
Fellow farmers were gathering movable corral sections in hopes of establishing a pen once the bison are found.
Hines said the plan Wednesday was to set up a pen near the bison, then fill it with corn to lure them in.
Neighbor Shelly Bishop was hesitant to talk about the situation because broadcasting “There’s bison on the loose” could cause a media stampede and complicate the search.
“Please stay away, don’t come around. We’re trying to do this as nicely and easily as possible,” she said, asking the location of the search not be publicized.
State police got a call Monday about a loose bison. That one was corralled and taken back to the farm, but the 11 others have eluded capture.
The animals, brought back from the brink of extinction, are sold for meat and as breeding stock, but they are not docile or domesticated, Bishop said.
“You have to respect that they are wild animals, you can’t forget. We’re trying to do this as nicely and easily as possible. It’s going to be dangerous for these people and dangerous for us,” she said.
Hines said he and his wife have been raising the bison for about four years, and now have 35 head, counting those on the lam.
He said trying to gather them is a difficult prospect.
“They’re temperamental. Once they start running, they keep running,” Hines said.
“It’s never happened before,” he said, adding that if it had, “I’d know what to do.”
He said he was in contact Wednesday with people able to tranquilize the bison, but it was unclear if that would be necessary.
Hines said shooting the bison would be a last resort.
Bison eat grass and hay and, when they’re available, pumpkins. They weigh, on average, 1,300 pounds, and some are bigger.
Searchers say the bison do not currently pose a public safety threat — steep inclines off mountains keep them separated from population centers.
Bison like to eat in the morning and later in the day, so it was likely they were cooling off and laying low Wednesday afternoon.
“There’s a point where you just have to sit and wait,” Hines said.
There are believed to be 220,000 bison in the United States, according to the National Bison Association.
Data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture show 67 farms in New York with 1,854 bison, but didn’t indicate any in Schoharie County, according to the state Agriculture and Markets Department.
Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond said the department hasn’t received calls about the bison, and he doesn’t believe there’s any public safety threat.