Police round up the unusual suspects

Bison: Baltimore County is briefly the wild, wild East.

April 27, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Police dispatched more than a dozen cruisers and one helicopter. They shut down roads, and state highway workers closed a Beltway ramp.

All to round up a herd of American bison disrupting rush hour and roaming through the upscale neighborhoods of Baltimore County's Green Spring Valley.

Then - with the nine beasts corralled within the fence of a condo complex's tennis court - the real work began.

You try coaxing thousands of pounds of agitated animal brawn into a trailer.

"Hectic and smelly," said Larry Plimack, a property manager who joined with police to help capture the bison. It seemed that no one woke up yesterday expecting to confront a challenge straight out of a Western movie.

The bison made their escape early yesterday from a farm off Greenspring Valley Road.

Their owner, longtime demolition contractor Gerald "Buzz" Berg, said he was settling down to breakfast when a neighbor knocked on his door at 7 a.m. and told him the animals were on the loose. Berg said he has been raising the animals - commonly, if not precisely, referred to by many as buffalo - for about 10 years on his 40-acre farm, mainly for meat.

He said he wasn't sure how they got out.

American bison were once rendered nearly extinct by unregulated hunting, but there are now an estimated 270,000 in the United States, according to the National Bison Association.

Yesterday, Baltimore County police received calls that the animals were trampling along Stevenson Road at Anton Farms Road.

The bison led police south on Stevenson and through several neighborhoods before crossing Park Heights Avenue. Sections of both of those roads were closed as a precaution, as was the Stevenson Road exit from the Beltway's outer loop.

"We were trying to make sure nobody got hurt, either people or the animals," said Baltimore County police Lt. Dave Folderauer. "They came awfully close to the Beltway."

The roundup involved 13 county police cruisers and at least one from the state police, officers from the county tactical unit and workers from the State Highway Administration. The county police helicopter was used to shoo the bison away from the Beltway, police said.

The animals eventually were cornered in a parking lot at the gated Greene Tree townhouse and condominium complex. Officers, some on foot, some in patrol cars, then herded the bison into a fenced tennis court.

Retirees, children out of school and people on their way to work all stopped to take in the spectacle.

Steve Rottman, a surgical resident at Union Memorial Hospital, was just returning home from an overnight shift when he saw the commotion. He quickly got out his camera.

"It's a pretty impressive sight," Rottman said. "Nobody will believe it unless they see it."

Plimack, who had joined in the pursuit after seeing the herd pass his home off Stevenson Road, filled a inflatable kiddie pool for the thirsty animals.

For going on three hours, more than a dozen officers and a handful of volunteers worked to load the animals on a trailer, which could hold a few at a time, for the ride back to the farm.

Each time one climbed aboard, the crowd cheered and clapped. But when the bison did what animals inevitably do, the crowd let out a collective "Eww."

"I called the Health Department," said Joan Magill, agent for the homeowners association at the complex. "They said we need to use a disinfectant."

By the time the last two cranky and weary animals were left, the task had become more difficult. Police resorted to creating a barrier with chaise lounges from the complex's pool. They tried to coax the animals into the trailer with bread and grain.

The last stubborn buffalo, said to weigh about 700 pounds, broke through the barrier, knocking down an officer. He was uninjured.

The crew was just about to resort to spraying the animal with fire hoses or tranquilizing it (a zoo official had just arrived) when, just before 2 p.m., the bison climbed aboard the trailer.

"And nobody got hurt," said Folderauer, the police lieutenant.

Yesterday wasn't the first time these bison got free. On April 19, three escaped through an unlocked gate, but they remained close by. Berg was able to lure them back into captivity with stale bread, while police were on hand for traffic control.

After yesterday's escapade, Berg, owner of a scrap metal recycling company that bears his name, said his enthusiasm for raising bison was waning.

"The way I feel right now, I'm giving them all away," he said. "They're going to the slaughterhouse."

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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