And so, the end of a captivating saga |

And so, the end of a captivating saga

Napini and Minko no longer need to roam.

The buffalo cow and calf whose 10-day walkabout last fall captivated the county and sparked a bitter custody battle, have integrated into their new herd. The pair were moved from Dog Bar Road to a buffalo ranch in Placer County two weeks ago and are settling in nicely.

Kathy Labelle, who took owner Gary Dugger to court for possession of the bison after claiming he was neglecting the animals, took legal possession of the buffalo at the end of December.

But it took a month of wrangling – at times literally – to transport the hefty pair.

“The biggest problem was the logistics of getting them from where they were,” said rancher Jed Hammon. “I went up and tried to load them myself, but I didn’t have the right equipment. They’re not like cattle. They definitely have a mind of their own. They’re a lot faster and more agile.”

Hammon was happy to add Napini and Minko to improve the genetic diversity of his herd.

“I mostly concentrate on breeding stock,” he said. “I’ve been raising bison for about 20 years.”

Once the pair was corralled, it was happy trails, said handler Jason Dailey.

“It just took a little while for them to come in,” he said. “They were a little skeptical, a little nervous … But it wasn’t too bad. Nobody got hurt.”

Napini and Minko arrived in Placer County to a warm reception.

“They had a welcome reception of 50 buffalo pals staring at them,” Labelle wrote in an e-mail. “A female from the herd walked over to them, and they walked with her into the herd. They were received with nudges and licks, and everyone came over to size up these new kids on the block …

“After about an hour, the magnificent male headed over the hill, and the herd followed. Nappy and Minko stood for several minutes staring at us, and then Minko turned to join the herd and Nappy followed, literally walking into the sunset.

“It was the perfect storybook ending to this saga.”

It began in October, when the two buffalo escaped from their enclosure on Dugger’s property near Alta Sierra a few weeks after the cow’s mate, Bill, died.

The buffaloes had been missing for a week and a half before wind and rain drove them back to Dugger’s property Oct. 13.

But during their 10-day escape, Labelle went public with allegations Dugger possibly caused Bill’s death, and vowed to find new homes for Napini and Minko.

Dugger, for his part, alleged Labelle improperly fed his animals, perhaps causing the male buffalo to die earlier in the fall.

In late October, Nevada County sheriff’s deputies were called to Dugger’s property after Labelle showed up to take the buffaloes but was not allowed access by Dugger. Labelle had a document dated in October and signed by Dugger giving her the buffaloes, but Dugger said the document was no longer valid.

Labelle filed a lawsuit for possession and both parties spent time in mediation before Dugger agreed to give the two buffaloes up in late December.

Labelle went to visit the buffaloes in their new home Saturday.

“I was so excited to see them, yet a bit apprehensive, since the rancher had warned me that after they joined the herd, they would not come to me or my husband anymore,” Labelle wrote in the e-mail. “I had prepared myself for letting them go and not having the same bond …

“Just seeing them happy and with the herd, leading the life they were meant to live, would bring its own happiness.”

Despite her previous apprehension, Labelle and the rancher went out to the pasture, and she was able to feed the two buffaloes, she said.

“I held out my hand full of carrots and baby Minko walked right up to me, as if I had just seen her yesterday,” she wrote. “The rancher and I hung out with the herd for a couple of hours.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail or call (530) 477-4229.

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