NEW YORK – March 22, 2017 – A new herd of bison is now on exhibit at the WCS’s (Wildlife Conservation Society) Bronx Zoo.  


In November, the zoo received a gift of eight genetically pure American bison from the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.  The seven female and one male bison are from the Yellowstone National Park bloodline, which are among the few pure herds remaining. The vast majority of present-day bison have small amounts of domestic cattle genes, a reflection of past interbreeding efforts when western ranchers tried to create a hardier breed of cattle.  The historic transfer will further the Bronx Zoo’s long history of facilitating bison conservation projects in the western U.S., and marks the first time bison have been transferred by a tribe to a zoo.


Tribal leaders the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes visited the zoo on November 18th and conducted a sacred pipe ceremony, blessing the bison that were transferred from Fort Peck pastures in Montana.  A pipe ceremony—part of a long tradition to seal a partnership between people groups—celebrated the relationships between Fort Peck Tribes and WCS and honored the gift of the bison provided to the Bronx Zoo.


"Our delegation accompanied our buffalo to the Bronx Zoo. When we arrived we offered a prayer and traditional ceremony of thanks," said Fort Peck Tribal Elder Dr. Ken Ryan.


For nearly five years, the Bronx Zoo has been working toward the creation of new herds of genetically pure bison through embryo transfer. The goal for these bison will be to breed animals for eventual restoration in the west. The bison from Fort Peck will become part of this effort by breeding with a genetically pure male born as a result of the embryo transfer program in 2012.


Said Dr. Pat Thomas, WCS Vice President/General Curator and Associate Director of the Bronx Zoo: “The Bronx Zoo played an important historical role in the recovery of the American bison. By establishing a pure herd here, the zoo will be, in essence, returning to its roots. The offspring of these bison will be used to establish herds in other AZA-accredited zoos and in future restoration programs.”  


“Bison remain a sacred cornerstone to Native American life and culture,” said Keith Aune, Director of WCS Bison Program. “We are humbled by this gift and committed to our partners and to continuing a tradition that started more than one hundred years ago at the Bronx Zoo – that of restoring Bronx-bred bison to targeted western landscapes.”


“This is an important undertaking in bringing these Yellowstone buffalo from Ft. Peck, a member of the Intertribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), to the Bronx Zoo,” said Ervin Carlson, President of (ITBC). “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.”


The bison transfer marks Fort Peck tribes’ success in being the first to host disease-free bison previously quarantined at a research facility just outside of Yellowstone National Park. The quarantine feasibility study (click here for press release) demonstrated that a quarantine protocol could be used to isolate brucellosis-free bison. After protocol completion, the bison were shipped to the Fort Peck Reservation for five years of assurance testing by the Fort Peck Tribes.  During that time, Fort Peck grew the herd from 100 to nearly 300 bison. The bison given to the Bronx Zoo are part of this group.


Hosting and breeding these Yellowstone bison will continue the Bronx Zoo’s historic role in bison conservation started near the turn of the 20th century.  Offspring from these animals will be used to create additional genetically important breeding herds at other AZA accredited zoos, which will build numbers for eventual reintroduction in suitable locations across North America. 


Bison and WCS

The bison is an American conservation success story. In the early 1900’s, the bison was on the verge of extinction – numbering less than 1,100 individuals after roaming North America in the tens of millions only a century earlier. In 1907 and 1913, the Bronx Zoo sent two herds of Bronx-bred bison out west to re-establish the species.


WCS is continuing its tradition of using science-based solutions both in the field and in its wildlife parks to maintain viable bison populations and to preserve this icon of American heritage. One goal within this vision is to create and maintain ecologically functional herds of bison with sound genetics.


In April of 2016 year, WCS and other steering members of the American Bison Coalition, scores of bison-friendly groups, organizations, and businesses celebrated passage of the National Bison Legacy Act by Congress—making the bison’s adoption as U.S. National Mammal official. President Obama signed the legislation on May 9, 2016.   
For more on the bison at the Bronx Zoo from the perspective of one of their caretakers, visit the WCS Wild View photo blog at