OAKLAND, CA…April 11, 2018 – Cultural leaders, elders and members of the Blackfeet Nation (of the Blackfeet Native American Reservation in Browning, Montana) gathered ceremoniously yesterday in transferring 14 of their newly restored bison herd onto a truck headed to Oakland Zoo as part of the Zoo’s ‘California Trail’ expansion, consisting of 56 acres and exhibiting several new animal species native to - but no longer present in - California, including the iconic bison. The bison being transferred are descended from those captured on Blackfeet land in 1873 that became the noted “Pablo-Allard” herd (history below).
All the arriving bison are female, and come from a historic herd of only 4-7 individuals dating back to 1873. In order to diversify the genetics of this herd’s offspring, which will be sent back intermittently to Blackfeet land and to Glacier National Park, two male bison from Yellowstone National Park will join the females this Fall and the group will be allowed to breed naturally. The end-goal, termed the Innii Initiative by the Blackfeet Nation, is to restore a herd of a few thousand living in an open range setting on Blackfeet tribal land, Glacier National Park & Waterton National Park (rocky Mountains area).
“We’re very happy to be working with Oakland Zoo. It is so important to be returning this iconic animal and its historic bloodline to our culture - and to 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.
Present at the ceremonious loading of the bison onto the transport truck was the Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research for Oakland Zoo, Colleen Kinzley, and President & CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott: “We are excited to bring bison to California Trail at Oakland Zoo and to partner in the Iinnii Initiative - Blackfeet Nation’s effort to return buffalo to Blackfeet land and our National Parks. This is a great opportunity for us to support conservation, provide education about bison, and to expose the people of Northern California to this program for buffalo to be free-ranging wildlife.”
Zoos have played a key role in bison conservation; Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo was pivotal in restoring bison to the Great Plains more than 100 years ago. Oakland Zoo and Blackfeet Nation will share in educational programs and support each other’s interest in promoting bison conservation and culture preservation. This mutual relationship will include youth exchange for education, fundraising for projects, and promotion of eco-tourism programs.
The naturalistic habitat for the bison at California Trail consists of 12 acres of rolling grassland and oak trees, with a 25’ long pond and dust wallows to allow the bison to live as they do in the wild. Also included is a state-of-the-art corral and chute system for management and medical care.
The public is welcome to meet our Blackfeet Nation partners this Saturday the 14th, Earth Day at Oakland Zoo, to welcome the buffalo to Oakland Zoo. The welcoming event will be at 1:00 PM in Wildlife Theater.
“We couldn’t be more honored to be part of this historical event. We look forward to sharing the journey with our community – and together doing all we can to conserve and support this beautiful animal and culture,”Amy Gotliffe, Director of Conservation at Oakland Zoo.
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 of North America. In 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt 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’s Wichita 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 origins of this herd date back to 1873 when Samuel Walking 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, Walking Coyote’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 300 head, and played a key role in the preservation of bison by restocking and supplementing many public conservation herds, including those at Yellowstone National Park and the National Bison Range herd in Montana. When the U.S. Government initiated plans to open the Flathead Reservation to homesteaders in1906, 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.
Oakland Zoo, home to more than 700 native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); a non-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community to take action for wildlife locally and globally. With over 25 conservation 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. For more information, go to www.oaklandzoo.org.
The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council is a federally chartered Tribal organization dedicated to the restoration of buffalo to Tribal lands in manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices. ITBC has been working on this mission since 1992. Visit: http://www.itbcbuffalo.com
Erin Dogan Harrison, (510)746-7120, firstname.lastname@example.org