The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has joined with the Minnesota Zoo in an effort to conserve the North American plains bison.

The DNR will work with the Minnesota Zoo to cooperatively manage a genetically-pure bison herd at Minnesota state parks and at a zoo exhibition. A herd of 100+ bison currently reside at Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota, a project that started in 1961 with three bison from Nebraska. The zoo exhibits bison on its Northern Trail.

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 1 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 will help 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.

“American bison were the first wildlife species that zoos actively worked to help save, with a small herd originating from the Bronx Zoo being returned to the wild in 1907 to help restore the species in the Western Plains,” said Minnesota Zoo Director/CEO Lee Ehmke. “A strategic priority of the Minnesota Zoo is to increase awareness and to actively participate in the restoration of the prairie ecosystems that once occupied vast areas of Minnesota. Helping to expand the population and range of a keystone species like the bison, in collaboration with our colleagues at the DNR, is exactly the sort of conservation action our Zoo is committed to engage in.”

Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR Parks and Trails Division, said, “We are very excited to work with Minnesota Zoo staff to help preserve and expand the number of plains bison in Minnesota being managed for species conservation and ecological restoration. By signing this memorandum of agreement today, we will be helping Minnesota play a greater role in preserving one of the icons of the North American conservation movement, and providing additional opportunities for visitors to see and learn more about these magnificent animals and the prairie ecosystems they inhabit.”

The project will begin this fall.

Logo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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