Wind Cave National Park, SD – On October 15, two female and one male bison were sent by Wind Cave National Park (WICA) to Red River Zoo (RRZ) in a ground-breaking achievement for their Zoo-Park Partnership for America’s Keystone Wildlife and the chance for the zoo to play a direct role in bison restoration.
Since they formed their ZPP in 2018, RRZ and WICA have been collaborating on field interventions to improve the health of black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs and populations of bison and pronghorn that roam the nearly 34,000-acre prairie habitat of the park.
RRZ and WICA join nine other ZPP pairs involving National Parks across the country as part of the ZPPs Project hosted by the Wildlife Restoration Foundation and supported through an MOU between the National Park Service and Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
WICA’s bison herd has become an important resource to preserving and protecting genetic integrity and diversity of bison. The 14 member-founder herd came by train from the New York Zoological Society (now the Bronx Zoo) in 1913. Bison reproduced steadily and over WICA’s history as a bison range. WICA has distributed over 1,500 offspring bison to 34 Native American Tribes and to private conservancies. These bison are sometimes used as “satellite” herds that serve as safety nets for the park’s herd and also result in bison offspring distributed to supplement or form herds elsewhere. RRZ’s receipt of three bison, a bull and two females, will mean a zoo now also holds a reserve of these valuable genetics.
The zoo’s new group of three bison will live in the new Scheels Pride of the Prairie habitat which is being designed to resemble WICA’s rolling grasslands. The bison exhibit, scheduled to open to the public in summer 2022, is the first major exhibit of the Zoo’s 20-year strategic plan for growth.
As part of its ZPP commitment, the zoo will engage Tribes as well as the park in interpreting the cultural and ecological meaning of these bison. Visually captivating signage, online and educational messaging will place wildlife recovery efforts in the context of U.S. history and ZPP and other efforts that continue today. All of the exhibits foster public pride in North Dakota’s conservation legacy, encourage the public to visit and appreciate national parks in the Dakotas and steward their resources.
“Our Zoo-Park Partnership with Red River Zoo grows our capacity to conserve wildlife native to the Great Plains and expands opportunities for the public to see bison and understand their broad grasslands conservation role and cultural value,” said Leigh Welling, WICA superintendent. “By providing a home for a small conservation herd, the zoo will help us preserve vital genetics and assist in bison restoration.”
“The Red River Zoo is thrilled to welcome these bison to the zoo. Our location in Fargo gives us the opportunity to reach the farming and ranching community that surrounds us and also we plan to partner with Tribes and ensure we can well-interpret the whole bison story of the West,” said Sally Jacobson, RRZ director.
“Wildlife are part of the historical landscape our nation’s parks sustain and interpret. Zoo partners contribute expertise and resources to help parks meet America’s wildlife health and population recovery goals,” said Julie Anton Randall, president of the Wildlife Restoration Foundation.