History was made this week as the first wild baby bison was born in Illinois in nearly two centuries. Bison last freely roamed east of the Mississippi River in the early 1800s.
The American bison — which once roamed much of the North American continent from Georgia to northern Mexico and as far north as Canada — has been reintroduced to the wild in protected prairie lands. The North American species is often referred to as the “American buffalo”.
Bison species were nearly sent into extinction due to mass hunting and slaughter. The resurgence is thanks to conservation efforts that began at the turn of the 20th century.
“This was quite the surprise,” ecologist Cody Considine with the Nachusa Grasslands told the Chicago Tribune.
Nachusa Grasslands is a 3,500-acre prairie restoration project about 100 miles from the Windy City. Thirty bison were brought to Nachusa from Iowa. Several of the animals were known to be pregnant.
“From a historical standpoint, this hasn’t happened in Illinois in about 200 years,” Considine added.
According to the Chicago Tribune, bison populations have stabilized. They now number around 500,000 in the United States. Only about 20,000 of those roam in the wild.
The Chicago Tribune notes:
The Nature Conservancy, which owns Nachusa and began preparing the land for bison in the late 1980s, is using the bison as key players in the restoration. The animals’ selective grazing clears the way for native flowers and plants, and attracts wider varieties of insects, birds and other animals, helping the biodiversity of Nachusa.
And, those adventurous enough to visit Nachusa can observe the bison performing their environmental repair work. For the time being, the animals are roaming about 500 acres in the northern area of grasslands, Considine said. By late next fall, workers will open an additional 1,000 acres to the bison, he added.
More bison are expected to be brought to Illinois in the near future. The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, which is located in the far southwestern suburbs of Chicago, will be home to bison as soon as this fall.
Image Credit: Tony Hisgett, flickr