The buffalo have moved to Noah’s Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center in Locust Grove, Ga.
The depot, which is facing funding cuts as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, has housed buffalo for most of the past four decades.
In February 1973, the first buffalo arrived at the depot from the Wichita Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. The commander at the time thought the animals, which once populated nearly all of North America including Alabama, would be a morale booster, said Clester Burdell, public affairs officer for the depot. Burdell said the employees did seem to admire the animals.
“I think the employees did enjoy having the buffalo on the property, because if anything ever changed, we got lots of queries,” she said, laughing.
For instance, when the buffalo were molting — shedding their fur — employees would call and ask what was happening to the animals, Burdell said.
The buffalo lived and bred at the depot for eight years and in 1981, the depot was housing 10 of the beasts, a herd too large for the space, Burdell said. Six of the buffalo were moved to a farm in south Alabama. Later in 1981, one of the four died, and then in 1984, another buffalo died. When the second buffalo died, the depot had it stuffed by Tallapoosa taxidermist Bud Jones and donated it to the Anniston Museum of Natural History in November of that year.
Cheryl Bragg, executive director of the museum, said the buffalo is still on display there in the Dynamic Earth Exhibit Hall.
The last two remaining buffalo from the original herd, a mother and daughter, died in 2000 and 2005, Burdell said. In 2002, the depot received three more for the herd. Those animals, two buffalo and a beefalo, a cow-buffalo hybrid, were the ones that were still living at the depot in January.
“We received them in December 2002 when they were five months old,” Burdell said. “At the time, we thought we were getting three buffalo, not that it made a huge difference.”
The supplemental feedings, the equipment and the veterinary bills were quite expensive, she said. So, depot administrators decided the herd would be better off in a new home.
Alison Hedgecoth, the habitat manager of Noah’s Ark, said the sanctuary takes in exotic and domestic animals such as livestock that are orphaned or unwanted.
“We currently have around 1,000 animals,” she said.
Hedgecoth’s mother-in-law, Jama, started the sanctuary in 1978 with her husband, Charlie. It was the fruit of a lifelong dream, Hedgecoth said. The daughter of a traveling preacher, her mother-in-law was always picking up stray or injured animals.
“She would take in little possums and little crows that she would see and sneak them into hotel rooms,” Hedgecoth said. “Her parents would always tell her, ‘Get that thing out of here.’”
When she grew up, her mother-in-law started Noah’s Ark.
The refuge takes in all kinds of animals that would be hard to place anywhere else. The depot buffalo are now part of a herd of 10 at Noah’s Ark. The beefalo joins another beefalo on the preserve. Noah’s Ark also houses a lion, tigers, bears, exotic birds, alligators, giant tortoises, snakes and monkeys, along with a variety of other birds and animals, Hedgecoth said.
Noah’s Ark opens its wildlife habitats to visitors. The facility doesn’t charge admission and survives on donations and grants. But it is an expensive operation, Hedgecoth said. The feed bills alone run $10,000 a month, she said.
Anyone wanting to visit the depot’s buffalo is welcome to come during regular hours Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.
Star staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545