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15 Bison Killed After Chase Through Albany County

 It was a bizarre story that captivated the Capital Region today: a herd of buffalo on the loose. Hours after they broke free, all of the animals were dead.

At around 6 a.m. Bethlehem police got an unusual call – 15 buffalo were spotted grazing in a grassy area. The animals had apparently escaped from a farm across the Hudson River in Rensselaer County at some point the night before. They then likely swam across the river to Albany County.

Throughout the day, police monitored the animals, which are able to reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. The largest of the bison was estimated to weigh 1,300 pounds.

Bethlehem police lieutenant Thomas Heffernan says the animals became scared after officers approached them in a safe area. Heffernan said some charged at police.

“They came up the driveway, they came to where our command post was in a very close – maybe 75 feet, 50 feet away from us. That’s when they crossed over River Road, they continued to break through a fence, they crossed over the Thruway. Thankfully no one was injured, no vehicles were involved. They had a close call with a tractor trailer. They continued over both lanes, North and Southbound. Obviously that escalated the situation because now they’re going into a more populated area and into the general area of the schools.”

The owner of the animals — identified in media reports as George Mesick, who has a farm in Schodack — gave consent to police to supervise the killing of the animals, by that point considered a public safety threat.

Hired gunmenwere brought in to assist in killing the bison. After two of the animals were killed in a creek, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said the situation got out of hand.

“It got to a point when two [of the animals] went down, one was still floundering in the water. It was not down, we wanted that animal finished off. It was not right for that animal to sit there and suffer. The others started to run away. They continued to worry about the others and shoot the others as they were leaving,” said Apple. “You’re not going to shoot a buffalo in backside and put that animal down. It was time end the situation. It was done. It was over and it was becoming reckless. This is not the Wild, Wild West, this is the town of Bethlehem and Coeymans. And it was time to end it.”

By 1:39 p.m., all 15 animals loose on the eastern side of the Hudson River had been killed. One of the hired gunmen had been arrested.

Thomas Gallagher, a livestock specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, was brought in to assist in the incident. He said the bison, although farm-raised, are far different than domesticated cattle.

“In breeding, they breed a better disposition in the beef animals so you can be around them. These animals, that’s the problem. They’re not domestic. They’re very wild so you don’t really tame them. You don’t really wave your arms in front of them to stop them. So it’s a very different kind of animal we’re dealing with today.”

As of Friday afternoon, police officials said they did not know how the buffalo escaped or whether the owners would be held liable. Although the animals were raised for food, police said they could not be processed for meat and would be buried or composted.


Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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