The American Bison Society
- ABS Staff Photo
- A WCS delegation attended the 2011 American Bison Society meeting in Tulsa, OK. From left to right, WCS staff members Keith Aune, Pat Thomas, Kent Redford, Kevin Ellison, and Steve Zack toured a preserve near Pawhuska.
- Mary Dixon©WCS
- American Bison Society Photo
- In 1907, Bronx Zoo staff sent 15 bison by railway to Wichita Mountains
Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma to help restore the herds to the Western Plains.
- American Bison Society Photo
- The American Bison Society, with President Theodore Roosevelt (third from right) among its founders, held its first meeting in 1905 at the Bronx Zoo's Lion House.
Bison once numbered in the tens of millions and ranged from Alaska to Mexico. Many of our continent’s native wildlife species, including black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, and burrowing owls, depended on massive herds of grazing bison to shape grasslands and create habitat. As commercial hunting and U.S. westward expansion advanced, bison were virtually wiped out and other native species declined, too. In the early twentieth century, the American Bison Society—originally founded at the Bronx Zoo—reintroduced bison to reserves in the West. This saved the species from extinction. To help fully restore these American icons to the prairie and revitalize their ecological role, WCS relaunched the American Bison Society in 2005, and began its second century of bison conservation. The new American Bison Society seeks to support larger, free-ranging herds.
The recovery of the wild herds depends on the availability of larger expanses of connecting habitat. But North America’s large, unfettered landscapes are becoming rare: Human-made barriers crisscross the western Plains, which are divvied up into ranchlands and oil fields, interlaced with high-speed roadways, and increasingly dominated by suburban sprawl. Of a revitalized population of 500,000 bison living in North America today, most are kept on ranches and raised as livestock. Those bison that are part of conservation herds and considered to be truly wild number only 20,000.
What WCS is Doing
WCS’s American Bison Society aims to restore the bison’s ecological role as an important species in the North American landscape over the next century by working with government agencies, conservation groups, ranchers, Native American groups, and others. WCS is calling on the federal government to better coordinate management of bison across federal lands, and work with Canada and Mexico on cross-border bison management. We also promote scientific resolutions to obstacles facing bison restoration.
The Bronx Zoo’s bison herd descends from the very few bison that survived the slaughter in the nineteenth century. Bison in zoos can help bolster the gene pool of wild herds, and eventually, zoo officials hope to use the Bronx and Queens herds to contribute to restoration efforts in the wild. This goal builds on one of the Bronx Zoo’s earliest conservation efforts in 1907, when staff sent 15 bison by railway to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve in Oklahoma to restore the western Plains’ depleted bison population. There are other opportunities for Bronx Zoo mammal staff to advise on bison health issues, and we use our bison exhibits to communicate the cultural, historical, and ecological story of this American icon.
From the Newsroom
This Thanksgiving marked the 100-year-anniversary of one of the greatest milestones in the modern conservation movement: the transfer of 14 bison from the Bronx Zoo to Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.
A new publication by IUCN, written with WCS collaboration, reports on the current status of wild American bison, and makes recommendations on how to ensure the species is conserved for the future.
A national survey says that the American public respect and love bison, but most are unaware that the animals are in trouble. The survey is part of an effort to spark public support for ecological restoration of the species.
It will likely take a century, but conservationists believe they can restore the American bison to a surprising amount of its former range. Particularly important are the grassland ecosystems, both public and private, that might benefit from bison grazing, and local communities that might benefit from having herds flourish nearby.