Baby bison arriving at Blue Mounds State Park
The first bison calf has been born at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne in southwestern Minnesota, and up to 25 more are expected, according to Park Manager Chris Ingebretsen.
“This is an exciting time to visit the park,” Ingebretsen said. “New calves will continue to be born into early June, when our herd size will reach about 100 animals.”
Each newborn calf weighs 40 to 50 pounds and is able to stand alongside its mother and nurse moments after birth. Within hours, the cow and calf are moving with the herd. At maturity, bison bulls may stand five to six feet high at the shoulder, measure nearly 10 feet in length, and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The female cows are smaller, weighing about 1,200 pounds.
Bison, also known as buffalo, are the largest of all North American mammals. At one time an estimated 30 to 60 million animals roamed the country, but were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s, until less than 1,000 bison remained. Today bison are considered near-threatened and conservation-dependent, with approximately 500,000 animals in the country.
The Blue Mounds bison are part of the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd, managed through an agreement with the Minnesota Zoo to help preserve American plains bison. Bison from this herd are also managed at Minneopa State Park near Mankato and at the Minnesota Zoo.
Genetic testing from 2011-2013 has found the herd to be largely free of any genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle. This makes them rare.
Bison first came to Blue Mounds State Park in 1961, when three animals were brought from Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska. The herd is presently maintained at about 75 adult animals so they do not overgraze the 530-acre prairie.
Visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars to view the bison, as the herd can sometimes be a distance from the viewing platform as they graze across the prairie. A viewing scope is also available at the park. If not visible from the observation area, a hike around the bison range often provides a better view. There is no charge to view the bison, but a vehicle permit ($5 daily or $25 year-round) is required to enter the park.
For more information on Blue Mounds State Park, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/blue_mounds/index.html. For more information on bison, see www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/bison.html.
Blue Mounds State Park is located four miles north of Luverne on U.S. Highway 75. Turn east on County Road 20 and go one mile to the park entrance.