The Bronx Zoo has welcomed six calves to the herd of bison donated last year by the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. They were born in late April to several pregnant females that were included in the historic gift of eight genetically pure Yellowstone bison from the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.
Last November the seven female and one male bison were introduced to “our lonely four-year-old Yellowstone bull in the acclimation pens,” the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said in a statement in November 2016, melding into a nine-buffalo herd. After the animals arrived by trailer from Montana, leaders of the two tribes visited the nascent herd and conducted a pipe ceremony in celebration and gratitude.
“Our delegation accompanied our buffalo to the Bronx Zoo,” said Fort Peck Tribal Elder Dr. Ken Ryan in the WCS statement. “When we arrived we offered a prayer and traditional ceremony of thanks.”
“This is an important undertaking in bringing these Yellowstone buffalo from Ft. Peck,” said Intertribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) President Ervin Carlson in the statement. “It’s an effort consistent with ITBC’S continuing conservation work and the objective of preserving the important genetics of these animals. Through this event we are honoring buffalo and bringing many people and organizations together for ourselves and future generations.”
It was the first time that bison had ever been transferred from a tribe to a zoo, the WCS said.
“This historic transfer represents an extraordinary first step in recruiting support from America’s zoos for bison conservation,” the WCS said in a statement at the time.
The WCS owns New York City’s zoos, including the Bronx Zoo, and belongs to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Since the early 1900s the WCS has been working to conserve what was left of the iconic animals, a mainstay of American Indians before European contact until their near-extinction.
“These calves will bolster our efforts to expand our breeding program of pure bison,” said Bronx Zoo Associate Director Pat Thomas, also the vice president and general curator of the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a statement. “They will eventually be bred with other pure bison to create new breeding herds in other AZA-accredited zoos, and to provide animals for restoration programs in the American West.”
The new arrivals came thanks in part to an embryo transfer program that the Bronx Zoo has been conducting for the past five years, aimed at creating herds of genetically pure bison. The Fort Peck bison will eventually be bred with a genetically pure male born in 2012 from the embryo transfer program, the WCS said.
“Bison remain a sacred cornerstone to Native American life and culture,” said Keith Aune, director of the WCS Bison Program, in the statement. “We are humbled by this gift and committed to our partners to continue a tradition that started more than one hundred years ago at the Bronx Zoo—that of restoring Bronx-bred bison to important western landscapes.”