White Bison at Wyoming’s Bear River State Park

January 23, 2024

RayB_epod_wyobison357ac_04nov23 (002)

RayB_epod_wyobison354ac_04nov23 (002)

Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

To some Native American Indian tribes, a white buffalo, or bison, is among the most sacred things in the world, so the birth of a pale-furred male calf this past year in the small bison herd at Bear River State Park, on the outskirts of Evanston, Wyoming, stirred interest. The white buffalo calf of tribal legend — assumed in modern terms to be albino or leucistic— is a propitious sign said to renew life’s sacred cycle, as a harbinger of hope and better times, according to the National Park Service.

The Bear River calf, however, is the offspring of a white, part-bison cow, one of two nearly 3-year-old sisters in the herd with a portion of Charolais cattle DNA in their genetic makeup, says Tyfani Sager, the state park’s superintendent, so the coloration was not a total surprise. All three are featured in the first photograph above, taken on November 4, 2023, munching on tasty hay. A second image, from the same visit, shows the solo calf. Research, including mitochondrial sequencing, has shown that all American bison (Bison bison) — including herds in such places as Yellowstone National Park and Wind Cave National Park in the United States, and Canada’s Elk Island National Park — probably possess some cattle DNA due to intermingling over recent centuries, Sager says.

In managing the park’s small herd, bison calves are sent each autumn to Wyoming’s Hot Springs State Park, in Thermopolis, which also has a herd. Many are sold at auction, generating funds for the state’s bison and elk program, to provide feed, veterinary care, and other necessities. The white calf was among those sent to Hot Springs, though the older two still remain in Evanston, Sager says.

Bear River State Park is a 324-acre (131-hectares) day-use park, with a visitor and information center, picnic areas, paved and gravel trails, and small captive herds of bison and elk. Many birds and mammals live in or visit the area. The Bear River, which weaves through the park, is Great Salt Lake’s most substantial tributary. The river, about 350 miles (560 km) long, originates in the Uinta Mountains in Utah to the south of Evanston, circuitously flowing north and west into the region where Wyoming, Idaho and Utah meet, before ultimately looping south to join the big lake at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, near Corinne, Utah.


Bear River State Park, Wyoming Coordinates: 41.2662, -110.9372

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