Just minutes away from where I grew up buffalo roam on an island surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. While my family and I were visiting for the holidays I snuck out in the early morning to go to Antelope Island. As its name suggests, Antelope Island is home to several herds of antelope or pronghorn. Antelope Island is the largest and most developed of the Great Salt Lake islands. I reached it crossing the causeway just before dawn. Even in the dim morning light I was abl
e to see large boulder-like silhouettes’ of American buffalo (I know they’re technically not related to African buffalo but to Eurasian
Bison- but a moose is technically an Elk by the same logic so I prefer American Buffalo.)
The American Buffalo once numbered in the tens of millions. Their epic migrations dwarfed the wildebeest migration of east Africa. History wasn’t kind to America’s largest animal. By the end of the nineteenth century there was only a handful left in scattered herds. Fortunately those that remained became protected under federal law. One of the remaining herds was the antelope island population. Genetically they are recognized as one of the oldest herds.
As the sun rose over the snow covered mountains I could clearly see the buffalo. Steam rose off their dark brown hides. Nearby the buffalo was a covey of quail meandering among the sage brush. Two magpies with their elegant black and white coloring with flashes of iridescent blue flew in and among the buffalo.
The American buffalo is a great model for the artist; so many different textures and forms. Using a large sumi brush I made several paintings of the icon of the west. In all there are around nine hundred buffalo who call Antelope Island their home. Along with the Buffalo there are several herds of pronghorn, mule deer coyotes and birds. On my visit I saw chukar, quail, rough legged hawk, bald eagle, red winged black birds along with migratory waterfowl, mostly northern shovelers. The Great Salt Lake is a type of way station for migrating birds, and depending upon the season can harbor thousands of birds.
In the middle of the sea of salt buffalo live on small isolated island only miles from cities along the Wasatch front. It’s harrowing to think of the wasteful slaughter of millions of bison, but encouraging to know that the fortunate few remaining buffalo were preserved and protected for our generation.
I shot this footage with my new slr camera: