Out across the plains of South Dakota, over 1,500 bison (Bison bison bison) were rounded up recently as part of efforts to protect the species and maintain the health of the herd. Every year, the Custer State Park holds this annual health check to make sure the bison are thriving and help to vaccinate the year's new calves.
Moving these animals, where the males can reach as tall as 1.82 meters (6 feet) and weigh approximately 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds), is no small matter – and keeping the species safe is vitally important.
Bison used to be plentiful across the United States before hunters, soldiers, and tourists brought the numbers close to extinction. There were at least 10 million bison in the southern herd of the North American plains in 1870 – but in less than 20 years, this had plummeted to only 500 wild specimens. This great slaughter had terrible knock-on effects not just for the ecosystem but for the Native Americans who relied on this species.
“Now, after more than a century of conservation efforts, there are more than 500,000 bison in the United States,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a horseback rider who took part in the roundup told the Associated Press. “The Custer State Park bison herd has contributed greatly to those efforts.”
The herd at the Custer State Park started with just 36 animals in 1914, but numbers have risen over the years and the park now has around 1,500 animals. Each year, the round-up allows the officials to check on the health of the animals and decide which individuals will be sold to other parks. Around 400 calves are born in the park each year.
“Each year we sell some of these bison to intersperse their genetics with those of other herds to improve the health of the species’ population across the nation,” Noem said.
In South Wyoming, a rare white calf was born to the bison herd this year, while across the pond in the United Kingdom, European bison (Bison bonasus) are being reintroduced slowly to a small area of the Kent countryside with the hope of all the rewilding benefits these creatures can bring.