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Park’s Bison Herd Continues To Grow

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

National Park News

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve successfully reintroduced 13 bison from Wind Cave National Park last fall, setting yet another positive precedent for the park. 

"This is probably the first time bison have been on this ground in 140 years," said Alan Pollom, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Kansas chapter, when the bison arrived at the Preserve in October of 2009.  The majority of the park’s 10,894 acres is owned by The Nature Conservancy, while the National Park Service owns 34 acres. Both work collaboratively to manage the park’s natural resources.

The bison will serve as a satellite herd for Wind Cave, allowing the overall herd room to grow – only around 500 bison can be supported at Wind Cave at any one time.  The park’s herd is slated for a final size of between 75 and 100 animals. 

“We really appreciate the cooperation of Wind Cave, as their bison are in high demand because current testing suggests the Wind Cave National Park bison herd is free of cattle gene introgression,” said Kristen Hase, the park’s chief of natural resources.

Tallgrass Prairie and Conservancy staff originally planned to reintroduce 20 bison, split evenly between males and females, but fewer animals than expected were corralled during roundup last fall.  The park plans to introduce more bison from Wind Cave as they become available.

The Wind Cave National Park bison herd can trace its origins back to 14 animals transferred to the park in 1913 by the New York Zoological Society, also known as the Bronx Zoo, with six more bison coming from Yellowstone National Park in 1916.  These bison are considered quite valuable within the bison restoration community, since the Wind Cave herd is one of only two known public herds in the United States thought to be free of historic cattle interbreeding.

The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service have a lot of experience with bison.  The Nature Conservancy grazes about 5,000 bison on ten preserves, and the Department of the Interior has approximately 8,500 animals, roughly three percent of the 400,000 to 500,000 bison thought to exist.  The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands in Iowa and its Rancho El Uno project in Mexico also received several of the Wind Cave bison.

The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service have great access to people who possess the specialized skills and expertise to handle these “spirited” animals.  Paula Matile, the Conservancy’s conservation specialist at Tallgrass Prairie, was its first chief of natural resources and did some of the park’s initial bison reintroduction planning.  She works closely with Hase and with Brian Obermeyer, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Flint Hills initiative, in managing the herd’s population, genetic integrity, and health.

Interest in the bison herd has remained high with visitors. The herd can be viewed either on foot or by tour bus, as park trails run through or adjacent to the bison pasture.  This interest increased significantly over the 2010 Mother’s Day weekend with the birth of a calf, a female, on Sunday, May 9th. The bison calf is the first born on the property since at least the mid-1800s. 



"It's going to be great to see them grow," said Wendy Lauritzen, the park’s superintendent. "They're needed here."



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