The appearance of a very young calf on a preserve 95 miles west of Chicago has given a boost of optimism to conservationists watching the recovery of North America’s wild bison, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Bill Kleiman, who stewards the Nachusa Grasslands in northern Illinois for the Nature Conservancy, says the calf may be the first wild bison to appear east of the Mississippi since the 1830s, and that it has catalyzed a wave of public interest in the animal’s comeback.
Kleiman says the newly born calf, the offspring of one of 30 bison brought to the preserve last fall, is distinctly wild, with genes that can be traced back to the wild herd that was brought back from the brink of extinction in the early 1900s by zoologist William Temple Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt. The calf’s lineage has minimal crossover with domesticated cattle. It was born on a stretch of wild prairie soon to be expanded from 500 acres to nearly 1,500 acres. The bison will be subject to a quick veterinary checkup once a year.
As Outside wrote last year, restoring bison to the North American prairie is not always well received by ranchers, who worry the animals will transmit disease and outcompete livestock for forage. For now, however, conservationists have greeted the recent birth as welcome news for the future of wild bison and their ecological role east of the Mississippi. The one-ton animal is particularly prized for its grazing habits, which attract a wide variety of insects, birds, and other animals with a minimum of human intervention.
“There’s nothing more sustainable to the environment than an animal that’s been here for 5,000 years,” Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association, told the Tribune. “It’s a great thing to see these animals being restored to the land.”