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Native Americans are bringing back the bison


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Not too long along ago the prairies across Northern America were abundant in bison, or as they are known by Native American communities, buffalo. Between 20 and 30 million of these ancient creatures freely roamed the plains; the life blood of native tribes. 

 Buffalo American Animal

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons from Jack Dykinga , U.S. Department of Agriculture

These indigenous tribes have lived for centuries - with their survival intrinsically connected to the bison, their nomadic life style was dominated by the migration of the animal. However, it took less than a few decades for the landscape of America to dramatically change. White settlers encroached onto Native American territory and what subsequently followed was the government's systematic oppression of the native population. It had a disastrous impact on the environment and crippling consequences for an ecosystem that had remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Columbus arrived 400 years before white settlers began to head west, fuelled by their Protestant, Christian beliefs with a mission to 'civilise' and 'save' the Indigenous people who had lived on the land for centuries. The growing problems lead the government to wage a war against the native population. The bison were deemed the best and most effective means to devastate the Native tribes, which were entirely dependent on the animal.

In 1902, there remained only a meagre 23 bison in Yellow Stone National Park after years of state-funded hunting and slaughter. Yellow Stone, one of America's most impressive natural wonders, which stretches over the three states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, fortunately provided an oasis for this nearly-extinct population. The park is now at the epicentre and the key to restoring genetically-pure bison populations. The effort of conservationists in the last century has been so successful that now 4,000 bison roam freely.  

 Pyrocumulus im Yellowstone-Nationalpark

Yellow Stone National Park/ Image Credit: Mila Zinkova from Wikimedia Commons

In Montana, Fort Peck was the first Indian tribe to kick start conservationist efforts working directly with various institutions and groups. However, it has not been an easy journey as it is known that Yellowstone bison carry the disease brucellosis, which is thought to be extremely harmful to commercial cattle herds. The fear of the disease is so prolific, that cattle ranchers have pushed for hundreds of bison in Yellowstone to be slaughtered each year, to prevent the animals roaming outside of the park and mixing with cattle. Therefore, the tribe has had to battle anti-bison legislation in Montana, as well as powerful lobbyists.

The park implemented a five year quaratine to prevent the spread of the disease and the effort has produced extremely successful results. The experiment 'used Yellowstone bison, with the goal of providing disease-free, genetically pure bison to start new conservation herds elsewhere in Montana'.

In 2012 the first bison from Yellowstone arrived in Fort Peck. Now their herd is at 340 and is placed in the top ten US conservation herds. Other reservations in Montana are also receiving bison, including the Blackfeet reservation. The effort to conserve and re-establish genetically-pure bison herds was fortified in 2014 when a 13 tribal nations from across US and Canada signed the ‘Buffalo Treaty’.

The Great Plains will never look as they once did, however it is hoped that in 50 years time there will be ten bison herds 1,000-strong, which would be the minimum needed for the bison to fulfil their ecological role. What is certain is the key role that the Native American tribes will play in re-establishing the conservation of the bison in the land once again.

Lead Image: Wikipedia


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