Minnesota Zoo Welcomes Two Bison Calves as Part of Partnership with DNR
Bison calves are Zoo’s first in 20 years; partnership seeks to conserve North
American plains bison
Apple Valley, MINN – May 16, 2013 – The Minnesota Zoo is excited to welcome two
genetically-pure bison calves, important births signifying the progress of a partnership with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in an effort to conserve the North
American plains bison. They are the first bison calves born at the Zoo in 20 years.
Bison have been exhibited at the Minnesota Zoo since 1980, however this past year the Zoo
has been working with the DNR to cooperatively manage a bison herd at Minnesota state
parks and at an exhibition at the Zoo. A herd of nearly 100 bison currently reside at Blue
Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota, a project that started in 1961 with three bison
from Nebraska. Testing has confirmed that the bison herd at Blue Mounds State Park is
nearly genetically identical to bison that existed prior to European settlement. The Zoo
currently has 10 bison on its Northern Trail; Blue Mounds State Park welcomed its first calf in
late April. These two new calves at the Zoo are planned to be released into Minnesota
state parks in the fall of 2014.
Said Minnesota Zoo Director Lee Ehmke: “The birth of two calves in our newly-assembled
bison herd is a great first step toward achieving the goal we share with our partners at the
DNR—the restoration of wild bison to parts of their historic range on the state’s prairie
Background and Project
During the recovery of this species from near extinction in the early 1900s, cattle interbred
with bison in many locations. Recent scientific advances estimate that less than one percent of the world’s remaining American bison are free of cattle hybridization – posing a serious threat to the long-term conservation of pure wild bison across the nation. The new
effort helps protect the genetic diversity of this native Minnesota species and educate
Minnesotans about the bison’s conservation story and the important roles bison (and other
large herbivores) play in our prairie ecosystem.
Massive and thick-coated, bison – the largest land animals in North America – were once
the icons of North America’s Great Plains. They were the most abundant, with an estimated
30 to 60 million animals, before European settlement. Bison were hunted to near extinction in
the 1800s, with populations down to less than 600 before protective measures were put into
place. Currently, there are approximately 19,000 total plains bison in 54 conservation herds
(herds managed in the public interest by governments and environmental organizations);
the species is considered near-threatened and conservation-dependent.
The Minnesota Zoo is located in Apple Valley, just minutes south of Mall of America. For
more information, call 952.431.9500 or visit mnzoo.org. The Minnesota Zoo is an
accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and an
institutional member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).