(“Blue Babe” is a steppe bison that was killed by a lion, frozen and buried by silt some 36,000 years ago. He was found by a placer miner near Fairbanks, and rests today in the museum at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.)

The bison sniffed the frosty air, his head swinging back and forth as he scanned the snow-covered steppe. Vigilance was part of life, but within the herd it was a shared duty. Here, alone, he felt exposed and vulnerable. He lowered his head and pawed at the wind-crusted snow, uncovering a batch of browned grass, but he took only one bite before jerking his head up to look around.

The dead grass was harsh on his tongue, but it would be the only food available for months. And how could he feed, without others to keep watch? In the herd, at least one or two individuals at a time were always looking around, ready to sound a warning if danger approached. He swallowed the first bite, and lowered his head briefly to snatch more of the poor feed.

The wind tugged at his thick coat, but could not penetrate to his skin. He spread his nostrils and swiveled his ears, seeking warning of any predator, but the hiss of the blowing snow covered other sounds. Again he turned. Where was the rest of the herd? Sheltering from the wind? Perhaps in the valley to his left?

The narrow stream valley provided little shelter from the biting wind, and no other bison. Instinctively he knew the danger of being alone, but until he found the rest of the herd, he had little choice. Again he paced in a tight circle, seeking the source of every imagined sound.

What was that? One eye caught a blur of motion, and he bolted farther into the little valley. But the snow had drifted deeper here, and as he started to turn back, a sudden weight almost collapsed his hindquarters. Bellowing wildly he bucked and spun, the musk of lion rank in his nostrils. For an instant he was free, plunging though the snow for the mouth of the valley, but out of the thickening storm came another lion, leaping for his head.

His nose was pulled down, and again weight came on his hindquarters. He hardly felt the pain of claws and teeth. All his attention focused on the demands of his lungs for air. He tried to shake his head, to throw off the weight clamped to his muzzle, but his legs would no longer support even his own weight, and buckled under him. Redness fading to black washed across his world. He never knew when the lions began to feed.

About these ads