Once numbering in the tens of millions before being hunted to near extinction, the American plains bison is making a promising recovery.
In Minnesota, this recovery is supported by a long-standing partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Zoological Garden (MZG), which actively manage Minnesota’s bison conservation herd.
In the last year, southeastern Minnesota’s Olmsted County joined the partnership by establishing a bison population at the county park’s Zollman Zoo.
Currently, the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd includes about 130 bison at four different locations: Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, Minneopa State Park at Mankato, the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley and Zollman Zoo. The partnership’s long-term goal is a conservation herd numbering 500 bison to ensure the herd’s long-term sustainability in Minnesota.
The DNR has been managing bison in the state park system since 1961, when three animals were reintroduced to Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota.
“Minnesota’s Bison Conservation Herd is a true success story,” said Ed Quinn, DNR’s parks and trails resource management supervisor. “And it’s a perfect example of the amazing things that can be accomplished when a diversity of partners come together around a common goal.”
Conservation herds are managed by state, federal, tribal or nongovernmental organizations focused on protecting wild bison and preserving their genetic diversity. The Minnesota Zoo’s veterinary staff provide much of the health care for the Minnesota conservation herd, while its zoologists work hard to coordinate DNA testing and breeding efforts. Recent genetic testing of the herd found them free of any detectable genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle. This makes them rare among modern bison.
“The Minnesota Zoo is extremely proud to be a partner in this bison conservation program,” said Tony Fisher, MZG’s director of animal collections. “It is the Minnesota Zoo’s mission to protect wildlife around the world, and it’s exciting to be able to contribute to this collaborative project to help a rare species right here in our own backyard.”
Funding for these management efforts is provided by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.