By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
They weren’t sure it was going to work. After all, baby bison don’t adjust well to bottle feeding.
But Emmie Sperandeo, a ranch hand working out of Ronan, Montana, this summer, thought she’d give it a try.
On a routine job to transfer domestic American buffalo from one herd to another in June, one little “red dog” was separated from her mother. At 2 weeks old, the baby wasn’t expected to live.
When Sperandeo’s boss asked her to try to keep it alive, she wasn’t optimistic.
“Baby bison are very stubborn and sensitive,” Sperandeo told Cowboy State Daily. “I started her on a goat bottle, because the nipple is smaller.”
Everyone Loves Lucy
To everyone’s surprise, the baby survived – and became a daily part of Sperandeo’s ranch life.
And several million people around the world, not just in the mountain West, have fallen in love with little Lucy, the orphaned bison.
Sperandeo, a 26-year-old photographer/videographer/ranch hand based in Montana, has had millions of views of her TikTok video of Lucy, which gives viewers a glimpse of her unusual life with the baby bison.
But she gets even more reaction when she shows up at events with Lucy in tow.
In August, Sperandeo was in Jackson for a video shoot (she had to procure a special bison transportation permit to cross state lines). When she opened the back of her horse trailer and Lucy trailed behind her on a halter and lead, they drew attention.
“Most people thought it was nuts,” Sperandeo said. “They’re like, why? What are you going to do when she’s bigger? What is your plan here? What is going on? And I mean, most of them are pretty fascinated.”
That Bison Girl
But Sperandeo said she didn’t really have a choice – she was the only one able to bottle feed the bison, and Lucy bonded to her. So this summer, Sperandeo halter-broke Lucy and the two traveled all over together.
“I was really surprised at how quickly people started calling me the ‘Bison Girl,’” said Sperandeo. “I had her for a couple of weeks and people would see me on the street and be like, ‘Hey, how’s your buffalo doing?’”
Sperandeo said this winter she’s going to bring Lucy from Ronan to Townsend, Montana, where she’s spending the next few months.
“She’s really comfortable with me,” she said. “She’s used to being around the horses.”
Lucy Will Get Larger
Sperandeao said that as Lucy grows, if she does end up keeping the bison long term, she’ll put her in a separate pasture and get her a buddy.
She also has the option of keeping Lucy at the ranch in Ronan if that doesn’t work out.
Rejoining the Herd
Sperandeo said Lucy has adjusted well to life both with her human “mother” and other bison. In fact, Lucy started going out into the ranch’s bison herd on her own this fall.
Sperandeo attributes that independence to Lucy’s bison nature.
“She was like, ‘Well, there’s a fence and I want something on the other side of it, so I’m gonna get through it,’” she said. “So she would go out by herself. And then I was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna force you. But come back when you’re hungry.’”
Which she did.
But Sperandeo said she encourages Lucy to interact with other humans besides herself.
“She is very attached to me and very comfortable with me, but still doesn’t really trust other people,” said Sperandeo. “But I want to always try and be like, ‘OK, the stranger walking up to you, they’re not going to hurt you.’”
Who Wants A Ride?
Because Lucy was born into a domestic herd, she is considered livestock and not subject to the distance rules in place in locations like Yellowstone National Park.
So Sperandeo has some big plans in mind for Lucy as she gets older.
Like, to ride her.
“I want to get a little mini saddle and have her get used to having a saddle on her,” she said. “And just do little things that I can while she’s still small so that when she’s bigger, it’s easier.”
Experimenting like that is how Sperandeo has raised Lucy so far.
“There’s not really a guidebook,” she said about the relationship she has with Lucy. “There’s really no information at all on even bottle-feeding bison, because there’s not many that live. So this has all been a very interesting trial-and-error experience.”
Traveling With Lucy
Sperandeo has to pay attention to state regulations for livestock and domesticated pets, but Lucy isn’t considered an “exotic animal,” so crossing state lines with her hasn’t been too much of an issue – yet. But she has more research to do.
“I travel a lot with my horses,” said Sperandeo, who has been hired for photography and videography jobs all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, and even went to Africa this past spring.
“But since (regulations) vary per state, I wasn’t super comfortable with the idea of bringing her with me everywhere I go,” she said.
Sperandeo just wants to make sure she never is caught unprepared.
“You get vaccinated and then you get a bison transportation permit if you’re crossing state lines,” she said, “so that basically you have paperwork if someone pulls you over and is like, ‘Why do you have bison in there?’”