There are no two ways about it: the bison is an American icon. This thunderous behemoth of the western plains has inspired countless generations of artists, writers, conservationists, and policymakers to share and preserve the beauty of wild North America.
Just over a century ago, bison populations teetered at the brink of extinction. They were hunted in huge numbers for their fur and meat, eventually reduced to approximately 1,100 individuals, a far cry from the tens of millions that once roamed the continent.
Luckily, the American bison is a conservation success story. They were bred and successfully reintroduced, and now roam the national parks and other protected areas of the west.
AZA accredited zoos, such as the Bronx Zoo and the Smithsonian National Zoo, have actively participated in the bison conservation movement since its inception in the early 20th century. In 1913, 14 bison were transferred from the Bronx Zoo to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and released. The reintroduction was a success beyond anyone’s imagination; since 1987, over 1,500 bison have been transferred from Wind Cave to other parts of the country, and the current population stands around 450 individuals.