Special white buffalo was acting average

Dear Johnnie: I was dismayed by the report of a “tussle” with another buffalo at the Tupelo, Miss., park that was severe enough for the white buffalo named Tukota to be put to death.

How did this rare (1 in 10 million) Colorado-born, 10-year-old white buffalo — especially revered in North American Indian spiritual culture — ever become lost sight of, unprotected or not treasured above all else?

Do you have any other information about the entire story? — Sharon

Dear Sharon: It turns out that Tukota the white buffalo did not see things the way you see them. He viewed himself not as something to be treasured above all else but as a regular buffalo.

Tukota the white buffalo got his name from his home in Tupelo, Miss., and the names of Sioux tribes -- Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. (Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo, Courtesy photo)

So, even though the owner of the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo gave Tukota his own fenced pasture with his own harem of cows, Tukota busted into the next pasture where there were more cows — and other bulls. It was Oct. 1, during breeding season.

“He was determined to get to the other cows and busted out and got mixed in with the other herd,” Dan Franklin told me. “They’ll fight to be the prominent bull. It was six bulls fighting.

“He wasn’t fully developed,” Franklin said, “but he thought he was.”

Franklin said the fence that the white buffalo broke — which consisted of two sets of electrified wires — had held him for 10 years.

The park’s staff took Tukota to the veterinary school at Mississippi State University. Franklin said “they did what they could,” then returned him to the park with a 50/50 chance of survival.

“We worked with him a week and a half,” Franklin said. “He was so banged up. We were giving him pain medicine and lifting him up three times a day to get him to walk around.”

But Tukota developed pneumonia. “We (determined) that he wasn’t going to get any better,” Franklin said. “He was suffering.”

So, on Oct. 12, with the Tupelo park veterinarian giving him a “zero chance of survival,” Tukota was euthanized.

Since I had Mr. Franklin on the phone, I thought I’d ask him how he got into keeping buffaloes at his park. “Ted Turner got me into it,” he said.

Are you serious? I asked.

“At the time (1999),” he said, “there were 200,000 buffalo in the whole world. I called Ted Turner and asked why he was fooling with them. He said, ‘We’ve got to do our part.’

“So, I went ahead and got my first bull, from (Gunnison) Colorado, and I got the cows from Canada.”

I’m guessing that’s when the word buffalo was added to the park’s name. At one time, the Tupelo Buffalo Park & Zoo had 380 buffalo, but Franklin has sold off breeding pairs throughout the years. It now has 42.

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