On Sesame Street, the answer probably is “they both start with the letter B.” However, on Prince Edward Island, the answer is a little different. In the cradle of Confederation, Buddhists are now looking after buffalo. To the chagrin of some non-Buddhists, they also have plans to sterilize the animals as a population control measure.
The first question many people may have is “how did buffalo get to PEI in the first place? Potatoes, lobster and Anne of Green Gables tend to be our trademark – buffalo, not so much.
The answer is they were a birthday present. Back in 1973, when Islanders were celebrating our first century as Canadians, the government of Alberta sent us some buffalo.
Buffalo in PEI?
They were housed in The Buffaloland Provincial Park about an hour’s drive from Charlottetown. Several generations of buffalo later, the park is still visited by hundreds of visitors each year hoping to catch a glance of the buffalo when they come out of the woods on the 100-acre property.
The park costs taxpayers approximately $30,000 annually to maintain. In an era of budget cuts, the government decided to privatize the park. They set out a request for proposals but received no responses. A community group called “Save Our Buffalo” quickly formed and tried to put together a bid.
However, they were unable to make the math work. The province insisted admission to the park must remain free. It is hard to survive, even in the short term, if your expenses are $30,000 and your revenue is zero.
Then the Buddhists entered the picture. The province signed a deal with Moonlight International Foundation, which is affiliated with a group of Buddhists that took over the former restaurant and hotel in the town of Montague (located about 15 minutes from the buffalo ranch), several years ago and turned it into an enlightenment centre.
An information meeting held by the department in Montague was a public relations disaster. First of all, nobody from the Moonlight International Foundation showed up, which definitely sent the wrong kind of message Most of the crowd were members of Save Our Buffalo and they demanded to know why the foundation representatives were absent – a question Tourism Minister Robert Henderson really couldn’t answer.
The day before the meeting Henderson’s department held a major promotion at Pearson Airport in Toronto. After being treated to a concert by Island performers, passengers on an Air Canada flight got a special surprise. They were given a free IPod loaded with an Island tourism video. The cost was roughly the same as keeping Buffaloland open for one year.
Jonathan Tsamantanis is a member of the Save Our Buffalo group. He said on the group’s Facebook page the major concern is the plan by the new operators to sterilize the buffalo as a population control measure.
“We must show them people can get their pet spayed or neutered but not a wildlife sanctuary of this calibre,” he said on the group’s website.
Both Henderson and Innovation Minister Allen Roach (who is the cabinet minister from the area) tried to paint the deal as being in the best interest of both the buffalo and the area. However, it is easy to see why Tsamantanis and his group are upset since it looks like it is IPods over this long-standing park.
Henderson maintains the deal will keep the park free and the foundation will be required to be cared for under a herd health management plan administered by a local veterinarian. He added, “If any of these covenants are broken, the property and herd will revert back to the province.”
Roach echoed that sentiment saying, “This deal ensures they stay where they are and satisfies every concern I heard over the last few months. I think the Moonlight Foundation will be an excellent steward of the herd.”
Buddhists said all the right things
In their only public statement since the announcement, the Moonlight Foundation said all the right things. Spokesman Max Wang said “Over the years, the park has become well known as one of the Island’s landmarks and attractions. By keeping the park open, Islanders and visitors can continue to enjoy it, and the buffalo can live a well-protected and healthy life.”
Whether that in fact is the case, only time will tell. However, it is clear both the foundation and government are going to have to work hard over the next several months and years to produce results. If that does not work, perhaps they can give all the Save Our Buffalo committee members a free IPod.
A life-long resident of Prince Edward Island, Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Andy Walker has been a writer and commentator for over 30 years.
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