Oakland Zoo Bison Return to the Wild for the Second Time

Oakland Zoo
May 26, 2022

Oakland, CA – May 26, 2022… Thirteen American bison from the Oakland Zoo herd are returning to Montana to join their historic lineage.  This marks the second transfer of bison as part of the Zoo’s Bison Restoration Project - Iinnii Initiative – in partnership with the Blackfeet Nation. This historic partnership works to restore free-roaming bison to Blackfeet land and nearby National Parks.

American bison calves from the Oakland Zoo herd who will eventually head back to Montana as part of the Zoo’s Bison Restoration Project - Iinnii Initiative – in partnership with the Blackfeet Nation

“We’re very happy­ to be working with Oakland Zoo. It is so important to return this iconic animal and its historic bloodline to our culture and preserve that culture for generations to come. For centuries, the buffalo have taken care of us. It is now our turn to take care of them,” said Ervin Carlson, President of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, Blackfeet Nation.

The returning group - four mothers, seven two-year-olds, and two one-year-old calves - are all descendants of the iconic ‘Pablo Allard’ herd. These are the first calves born since the addition of two Yellowstone males back in 2019. The introduction of these males marked the second step in the conservation program, intended to diversify the genetics of future offspring of Oakland Zoo’s herd. These calves, along with their mothers, have lived for the past two years in their 13-acre habitat at California Trail and are now old enough to make the trip to Montana.


Since the program’s start in 2018,30 calves have been born at Oakland Zoo, and with this latest trip, 24 bison have been returned to Montana. The Zoo welcomed four new calves earlier this month, and the Zoo expects more to come during this year’s mating season.

This multi-pronged effort for genetic diversity ensures the health and longevity of future American bison generations; the species reached near-extinction in the early 1900s when millions were killed during the westward expansion for grasslands needed to feed livestock. Though their numbers have increased tremendously, herds in the wild, and in private and public reserves, are quite inbred.

Bison have provided food and other crucial materials needed for survival on the prairie for generations, but the loss of this iconic animal also severed the spiritual connection to wildlife and the land. This conservation effort is not only significant in strengthening wild herds but also has a vital cultural significance to the Blackfeet Nation.



Isabella Linares

Oakland Zoo


Office:510-632-9525 ext. 239



Oakland Zoo


Office: 510-746-7120






Oakland Zoo, home to more than 850 native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); a non-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community in Taking ActionTakingAction for Wildlife both locally and globally. With over 25conservation partners and projects worldwide, the CSC is committed to conservation-based education and saving species and their habitats in the wild. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.


The bison, North America’s largest land mammal, once roamed the continent freely, helping sustain plains and prairie ecosystems as a keystone species through grazing, fertilization, trampling and other activities. Bison shaped the vegetation and landscape as they fed on and dispersed the seeds of grasses, sedges, and forbs. Several bird species adapted to or co-evolved with types of grasses and vegetation structures that had been, for millennia, grazed by millions of free-ranging bison.

Bison have an important role in America’s history, culture, and economy. Before being nearly wiped from existence by westward expansion, bison roamed across most North America. In 1907, President TeddyRoosevelt and the American Bison Society began an effort to save the bison from extinction by shipping 15 animals by train from the WCS Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma’sWichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Many Native American tribes revere bison as a sacred and spiritual symbol of their heritage and maintain private bison herds on tribal lands throughout the West. Bison now exist in all 50 states in public and private herds, providing recreation opportunities for wildlife viewers in zoos, refuges, and parks and sustaining the multimillion-dollar bison ranching and production business.


The Iinnii Initiative is developing a new vision for conserving the wild lands along the Rocky Mountain Front, sustaining Blackfeet culture and its unique connection with bison, and creating a homeland for Iinnii (bison, or buffalo). Oakland Zoo aids in increasing the wild population of North American bison through an outbreeding and release program. This partnership allows new genes to be integrated into buffalo herds intentionally. Buffalo are brought to the zoo’s rolling hills habitat to roam and breed with the zoo’s bison population. Once old enough, offspring are returned to the Blackfeet tribal lands to roam freely. In 2016, Oakland Zoo, WCS, and the Blackfeet tribes began this partnership. The agreement allowed 88 Bison from Elk Island National Parkin Canada to be relocated to their ancestral lands on the Two Medicine River in Browning, Montana. Oakland Zoo selected 11 animals from the herd to be part of the outbreeding program. The ultimate goal is for descendants from the new blended herd, including calves born at the zoo, to supply further restorations on wild landscapes in the Blackfeet Territory. The resurgence of bison, where they have been absent for a century, will significantly benefit the prairie ecosystem and other wildlife.


The origins of this herd date back to 1873 when SamuelWalking Coyote of the Pend d’Oreille tribe and three Blackfeet companions captured between four and seven calves orphaned during a hunt on Blackfeet land. Instinctively, with their mothers killed, the calves shadowed the hunter’s horses for security, making them easy to capture. By 1884, WalkingCoyote’s herd grew to 13 bison. Ten of these were sold to Michel Pablo and Charles Allard and formed the Pablo-Allard herd on the Flathead Reservation. This herd eventually became the largest in the United States, numbering 300head, and played a vital role in preserving bison by restocking and supplementing many public conservation herds, including those at YellowstoneNational Park and the National Bison Range herd in Montana. When the U.S.Government initiated plans to open the Flathead Reservation to homesteaders in 1906, Pablo sought a large grant for grazing land to graze his herd but was denied. He eventually sold his herd to the government of Canada. The animals were shipped to Elk Island National Park by train, with the last shipment sent out in June of 1912.