Buffaloed by Lightning? Not This Bison!

Meet Sparky, one tough bison at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa! In summer 2013, Sparky was struck by lightning on his shoulder hump.

While doing a survey of bison on the refuge in late July 2013, Wildlife Biologist Karen Viste-Sparkman noticed a bull standing by himself. On closer inspection, it was clear it had suffered a lightning strike and burned over a large area of its body.

“Sparky” was thin after the strike and wasn’t expected to live long. Since a lightning strike is something natural that could happen to wild bison anywhere where they range in the open grasslands of the West, the refuge logically opted to let nature take its course.

It’s been two years, and Sparky is strong as ever!

At 11 years and about 1,600 pounds, Sparky remains a bit thinner than the rest of the herd. Before received that electrifying bolt to the back, refuge managers know Sparky fathered three calves. Genetic testing will tell whether he successfully reproduced after the strike, but they’re hoping he does because he’s definitely one tough bison!

Sparky is just one of the bison that call Neal Smith NWR home. Located near Des Moines, the refuge was established to protect, restore, reconstruct, and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow. As part of that mission, Neal Smith maintains a small herd of bison.

Photo: Karen Viste-Sparkman


Have you ever seen a wild animal that’s been a victim of a lightning strike?








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