Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Consequences of Malnourishment on Catalina

From the Journal: 10/26/2011 (Catalina Island)

Catalina’s Bison are reportedly undersized, though I can’t really see it, the Bulls weigh a mere 1900lbs, not even a full ton. Anecdotally, this is because the biological clocks of the extant population here are still synchronized with the much larger population on the mainland. Normally the rut takes place between July and August and the calves are born, after the nine and a half month gestation period, between April and May. This takes place in Catalina just like on the mainland. However there is one crucial difference. On the mainland the young are born into a world that is turning viciously green – sustained at first on the abundant milk of their mothers – by the time they are weaned there is still plenty of food to help them grow and develop. On Catalina the Bison are born into the dry season. Food is scarce and the calves, while hardly starving to death, often fail to thrive. Deprived of food early in life (and in fact nearly constantly thereafter), they never grow as big as their continental cousins.

This little guy is going to be enormous when he grows up, but maybe not as big as he could have been.

We managed to capture three of the four known calves on the island during our month there. The lone wild-child is especially enigmatic since it was still sporting its infant-coloration, indicating that it had been born very recently and therefore very much later than normal.

Catalina Island: Overview

The Valley of the Moons on Catalina

This past October I was employed on Catalina Island to help with the annual Bison (Bison bison) roundup. I’ll cover the roundup itself next, but first Catalina deserves the spotlight.

One of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California, Catalina’s immediate neighbors are Santa Barbara Island and San Clemente Island.There are two major (relative to ghost towns) towns on Catalina Island: Avalon and Two Harbors. Avalon is located near the Southeast tip of the island, and it is where the majority of the island’s permanent residents reside. Its a tourist hotspot and a beautiful place to anchor, should you be of the sailing persuasion (As many of the part-time residents are). Two Harbors is located on a narrow strip of land (only half a mile across) near the center of the island. As the name suggests it boasts two (2) harbors, and is the location of the notorious (On the island at least) “Buccaneer Day,” an event I missed by just over a month, where residents and visitors alike dress up like pirates and drink heavily.

I’m actually pretty bummed I missed that. From the stories I heard its a fantastic time.


Most of the island is maintained by the Catalina Island Conservatory (CIC), which does a fantastic job protecting the island’s fragile ecosystems.

Among other things, Catalina boasts several endemic plant species as well as two populations of a species of endemic (and endangered) fox. The CIC wages constant war with a never-ending influx of invasive plant and animals species and does so while attempting to maintain cordial relations with the island’s opinionated human population.

Previously the CIC has come under fire for removing invasive feral pigs and goats from the island, and its current treatment of the Bison is also somewhat controversial. However, given that the island’s Bison are by no means a native species and should therefore logically be removed completely, the CIC’s current plan to simply control the population via yearly contraceptives represents an elegant compromise between their desire to protect the native flora and fauna on the island and the local economies dependence upon the Bison as a major draw for tourist dollars.

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