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Wildlife On Antelope Island

Bison on Antelope Island

Antelope Island is the largest and most developed island in the Great Salt Lake. A Utah state park is located there, offering a very nice beach, marina, campground, hiking trails and other recreational facilities.

Perhaps the most alluring feature of Antelope Island is its unique array of wildlife. The island is most famous for its large bison population. The herd fluctuates between 550 and 700, making it one of the largest publicly owned bison herds in the nation. The Antelope Island bison herd is also recognized as one of the oldest in the country and possesses unique genetic characteristics making it of interest to breeders.

Prior to European settlement, biologists estimate between 50 to 60 million bison roamed the continent. By the 1890s, the population had been decimated, and it is believed only 800 remained. Conservationists, faced with the eminent extinction of bison, began to take steps to save the species. Two Utahns, William Glassman and John Dooly, were instrumental in this effort. They brought bison to Antelope Island in 1893. The island herd is managed to maintain a stock population of 550. The bison calve primarily from March through May, and new calves balloon the population to more than 700. Studies indicate that this is near the maximum population of bison that the island can support without overgrazing the grasslands. Careful management allows the large herd to thrive while maintaining forage and nesting cover for other wildlife species.

The bison roundup, which occurs the end of October, is one of the great fall spectacles of northern Utah. The bison are driven to corrals on the north end of the island by a combination of volunteer horsemen and helicopters. Here they are allowed to rest for four days before being worked through the corrals, vaccinated and checked for general health the first week in November. The excess animals are sold at auction and a small number designated for the annual bison hunt conducted by the Division of Wildlife Resources in December.

Other mammals found on the island include mule deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, porcupines, jackrabbits and several species of rodents.

Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake attract numerous migrating and nesting birds. Along the shoreline avocets, black-necked stilts, willets and sanderlings can be observed. The island grasslands provide habitat for long-billed curlews, burrowing owls, chuckars and several species of raptors. The Great Salt Lake attracts incredible numbers of eared grebes, Wilson's phalaropes and California gulls.

The Great Salt Lake is one of the most important natural features in the country for migrating birds. The birds are drawn here to take advantage of the large number of brine flies and brine shrimp associated with the lake. One of the most interesting sights on the island is to watch these beautiful birds gorge on brine flies along the shore.

The combination of abundant large mammals located alongside of rich salt marshes provides Antelope Island with a truly unique blend of wildlife.

Information Courtesy of Utah State Parks and Recreation and Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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