Discouraging words are being spoken a little more frequently these days around Tonganoxie in Leavenworth County.
A herd of American bison, aka buffalo, that for years has been an interesting distraction now is becoming a big headache for some.
A tractor-trailer struck and killed two of the animals Monday after they escaped the fenced pasture where they are kept.
Monday’s incident was the latest, and most troubling, in a recent string of escapes, officials and neighbors say.
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“They’re a pain in the butt,” said Kim Musick, who lives near the property. “I love them. They’re beautiful animals, but they’re a pain in the butt.”
A few weeks ago, Musick was walking her dog before dawn when she saw several dark, hulking shapes. She initially thought they were pieces of construction equipment.
Then they moved.
Five of the animals, which can weigh up to a ton, had gotten loose and were grazing with nothing between them and Musick.
“It was a sight to see early in the morning,” she said. “Thank God my little dog didn’t start barking.”
The buffalo have been pastured on property just east of Tonganoxie along U.S. 24/40 for 10 or 15 years, said Maj. Jim Sherley of the Leavenworth County sheriff’s office.
The property covers more than 140 acres of rolling pasture dotted with dense brush and cedar trees. Two ponds exist on the property.
Neighbors are not sure how many animals reside there. Estimates range from 10 to 20.
Some speculate that the buffalo may be escaping more frequently because they are not getting enough to eat.
Whatever the reasons, the escapes seem to be happening more frequently, officials said.
Tonganoxie Police Chief Jeff Brandau said his department has received at least three reports in the last month.
At times, the buffalo have made it all the way to a nearby housing subdivision, he said. That’s where Musick had her recent close encounter.
Sherley said the sheriff’s office has been in contact with the owners of the buffalo’s pasture, who don’t live on the property, and they have tried to repair any breaches in the fence.
But for animals that big, a fence can only do so much, Sherley said.
“A buffalo is going to go where a buffalo is going to go,” he said.
On Monday, two of the animals wandered into the highway’s eastbound lanes just inside the city limit of Tonganoxie.
The driver of the truck that hit them was not injured. It was fortunate that the crash occurred where there is a lower speed limit and not outside the city where the speed limit is 65 mph, Sherley said.
There are no criminal penalties for a property owner whose animals escape from a fenced-in area, but under Kansas law the owners can face civil penalties and be liable for any property damage caused by the animals.
The owner of the pasture didn’t return a reporter’s call Wednesday.
During his law enforcement career, Sherley said he has seen all manner of animals get loose and be struck by vehicles, including emus, pigs, cows and horses.
Cattle are pretty easy to round up, he said. Throw some gravel in a plastic bucket and shake it and they will follow, thinking it is feed.
“Buffalo are a little bit more obstinate,” he said. “It’s a unique experience for patrol deputies. You don’t see it on an episode of ‘Cops’.”
The animals can run as fast as 35 to 40 mph. Brandau said he has been told they can jump as high as 6 feet.
“If they want out, it’s going to take something to stop them,” he said.