East Tennessee park welcomes white buffalo

Citizen TribuneJuly 13, 2014 

— The chances of an American buffalo being born white instead of the normal brown are about one in a million, according to Ron Nease.

Now, residents of the Lakeway Area, or anywhere else, have a chance to see one of the rare creatures.

Briarwood Safari Ranch in Cocke County, which Nease owns with his wife Deborah, has a white buffalo roaming the park. They got it in the first week of June, fulfilling a dream Nease has long held.

"I'd searched for years to try to find a white buffalo. I'd only ever seen one," he said.

He finally found a 7-year-old bull for sale in North Dakota and had it shipped to East Tennessee. It was a fortunate find because they are seldom found at any price. Normally, a white buffalo, if one can be found, sells for about 10 times as much as regular brown specimens.

"This is the first one the ranch in North Dakota has ever sold," Nease said.

Despite a long winter in an area noted for harsh weather, the buffalo is well fed and big, even by buffalo standards.

"It probably weighs about a ton," Nease said.

On the day the animal was loaded for its trip to East Tennessee, there were 11 inches of snow on the ground in North Dakota. Because it was so cold there, even in June, the buffalo was still wrapped in its winter coat. Since arrival in a warmer climate it has begun to shed, which leaves it looking a bit scruffy.

On arrival, the buffalo was skittish in its new surroundings. Briarwood Safari covers about 150 acres of rolling woodland, a big change in scenery for any animal used to the open plains. It hasn't taken it long to adjust to its new surroundings and to mingle with the other, regular colored buffalo.

"He's settled in very well now," Nease said.

According to Nease, the white buffalo is not a true albino, it's just oddly colored. He said he doesn't know why some buffalo are born white.

"It just happens sometimes," he said.

White buffalo are sacred to some Native American cultures and Nease said he has already had some Native Americans visit the park to see it.

They not only looked, but performed sacred chants and dances while there.

Nease's brother, George Nease, often comes from his home in the Parrottsville community to help out, and he said one day recently a Native American drove all the way from Florida to see the white buffalo.

He also performed chants and dances and asked about bringing other members of his tribe.

The buffalo is just one of about 70 species of exotic animals found at Briarwood.

Three species there are now extinct in the wild, Nease said.

Some are kept in pens but many, including the buffalo, are free ranging within the park and can be viewed by visitors driving the four miles of road that wind through the woods.

Nease said most people drive the entire loop at least twice and some four or five times. There is no limit on how long visitors can stay or how many times they can go through the wildlife viewing area.

Briarwood Safari is open from early spring through late autumn.

The hours are 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Nease said no more visitors are allowed to begin touring after 4 p.m. so they can have time to see as much as possible before closing time.

It can be slow going at times because some of the animals are prone to block the road. A visitor can be stopped by a zebra or emu or elk at any time.

Admission to the park is $15 per person if they drive themselves. For an additional $5 per person, the tour can be conducted in an open wagon pulled by a tractor operated by a park employee.

Information from: Citizen Tribune, http://www.citizentribune.com

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