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Olympic souvenir: a buffalo?

13 at Soldier Hollow will be sold during the Games

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SOLDIER HOLLOW — When the Olympics end, visitors will be able to take with them memories, ticket stubs, pins and, if they choose, 1,250 pounds of bison on the hoof.

They come with mangy coat, stubby legs, sharp horns, big head and are sometime cantankerous, especially when not fed, but, nonetheless, are as real an American buffalo as there exists today.

And, 13 lucky bidders will be able to own one of the real-life props that will be on display at Soldier Hollow, venue for the nordic events, during the Games.

"After Nagano," explained Courtland Nelson, director of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, "we felt it important we give our guests a Western experience. What better way than to show them one of the icons of the American West."

Early Monday, 13 buffalo from the herd on Antelope Island were loaded into trucks and driven to a four-acre compound specially built for the animals at the Olympic site. There will be two cows, six yearlings, four calves and one 3-year-old bull that tips the scales at 1,250 pounds.

After the Games, the 13 buffalo will be sold.

"We're not sure how we're going to handle the sale," said Steve Bates, wildlife manager for the DPR. "We're looking at the (Bureau of Land Management's) program to sell wild horses and burros. It makes sense to sell them rather than go to the expense of hauling them back to the island.

"We had a bumper crop of calves this past year, and right now we have 150 excess buffalo that we'll be selling later."

Nelson said the original idea was to show three animals identified with the West — wild horses, buffalo and elk. The elk were to have come from a private owner, but a link to a ranch in Colorado found to have chronic waste disease scuttled those plans.

So for now it will be buffalo from Antelope Island and wild horses from the BLM's herd that will be on site to complement the planned Old West program, will include mountain men, members of the Ute Indian tribe and black-powder shooting exhibitions.

Visitors will not be allowed to get too close to the double-fenced compound holding the buffalo, but a scheduled morning feeding near the roadside will take place during those times when buses are bringing visitors to the venue.

"The location of the compound is such that people will be able to have a very good view of the buffalo," explained Nelson.

Each year, the DPR sells excess buffalo from Antelope Island. The island habitat is able to sustain a heard of about 550 animals. This year more than 800 were corralled during the annual roundup in November. Money from the sale of the buffalo is used to improve island conditions for the animals.

Bates said people buy the buffalo for a number of reasons. "Some use them to start a herd or enlarge one. Some buy the buffalo for the meat. Buffalo meat is one of the healthiest red meats you can get. It has much lower cholesterol than beef or pork."

Buyers come from all over the country to choose animals from the island herd.

"We even had a couple from France this year that were interested. The sale never went through, but there was interest," he added.

The island bison are special in a number of ways. For one, they're disease free. Each year they are rounded up, tested and vaccinated.

For another, genetic comparisons show that the island buffalo are the closest living relatives to the early American buffalo that roamed the plains a century ago.

So, who knows, within the next couple of months, menus around the world could be serving buffalo burgers or bison stew — compliments of the Olympics.

E-MAIL: grass@desnews.com