The staff at the Cape May County Zoo is excited to announce they are working with Colorado State University on a repatriation program for American Bison. Snappy, the zoo’s yearling female bison was transferred to the Laramie Foothills Bison Project at Colorado State University at the end of June.
“The bison selected for this program must have a genetic makeup that is pure American bison, without cattle genes. Snappy meets the criteria and will join the surrogate herd at the University, where any future calves she produces will be re-introduced into the wild at Soapstone Prairie. We are proud that the Cape May County Zoo can participate in this program and be a part of the restoration of American bison”, explained Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, who oversees the Cape May County Park and Zoo.
According to Associate Veterinarian Alex Ernst, “Colorado State University has developed a way to harvest the genetics from bison living in Yellowstone National Park, clean them of any disease, and implant them in the herd at their campus, thus producing calves with Yellowstone genetics. Yellowstone National Park is home to 2 of the last remaining large herds of purebred Bison in North America. Their genetics are important; however, moving animals out of Yellowstone has been a problem because of their exposure to disease from ranched cattle nearby.”
“Researchers at Colorado State University have solved this issue by harvesting eggs and embryos from Yellowstone animals that they have on-site at the campus, “washing” them and removing the bacteria that cause disease, and re-implanting them in a “surrogate” cow. Basically they are producing pure Yellowstone Bison without any of the disease concerns. These herds, because of their purity, are ideal for restoration herds elsewhere. They are preparing to release some animals on a reserve close to the Wyoming border this fall”, Ernst added.
At one time, millions of American bison freely roamed the open ranges from Alaska to Mexico. Bison were virtually wiped out due to commercial hunting and the westward expansion. The American Bison Society, founded in 1907 at the Bronx Zoo, worked to reintroduce bison in the West and saved the species from extinction. Of a revitalized population of 500,000 bison living in North America today, most are kept on ranches and raised as livestock. The American bison that are part of conservation herds and considered to be truly wild, number only 20,000.
A donation of $5,000 to fund this program was made by the Cape May County Zoological Society and the Cape May County Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Snappy is doing well in her new surrounding and fitting in well with the herd.