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New bison graces Buffalo Rock

Mammal's name may be chosen by students

Buffalo Rock State Park's newest bison arrived Thursday morning from Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington. The 2-year-old joins Pebbles, a 14-year-old bison who's been at the park since 2005.
Buffalo Rock State Park's newest bison arrived Thursday morning from Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington. The 2-year-old joins Pebbles, a 14-year-old bison who's been at the park since 2005.

A 2-year-old bison bolted out of a gate toward her new home at Buffalo Rock State Park Thursday morning, where she joins 14-year-old bison Pebbles.

The yet-to-be-named bison comes to Buffalo Rock from Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington. 

“Getting her here was surprisingly easy,” said Dan Bell, site superintendent for the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Buffalo Rock State Park, which is along the Illinois River between Ottawa and Utica. “She was in the corral at Midewin and she jumped right into the truck and ran right to the back of it. We opened the doors here and she shot out like nobody’s business.”

Pebbles was cold to the new bison at first, retreating to what Bell called her favorite area of the fenced-in pasture, but the new bison didn’t seem to notice Pebbles at all until she had been running around for awhile.

The two eventually met up in the middle of the pasture, becoming fast friends.

The new bison already weighs 995 pounds and is close to 6 feet tall – and she’s only going to get bigger.

“She was 445 pounds in 2017," Bell said. “She’s a big girl and she’s only two years old. She’ll get even bigger; she isn’t done growing.”

Bell said the bison feed on oats in the summer and once November comes they switch to crack corn and hay.

The new bison was brought in after 20-year-old Holly, Pebbles’ mother, was euthanized after falling ill. Holly was brought in to the park in 2005 and unbeknownst to the park management, was pregnant with Pebbles.

“They got a buy-one-get-one-free deal on a bison,” said Paul Durdan, who manages recreation at the park.

Bell said bison typically only live between 15 and 20 years when held in captivity. 

The Midewin Tallgrass Prairie started in 2015 as an experiment to reintroduce bison into the Midwest in an attempt to restore the landscape back to its native tallgrass. 

“I have to make sure I thank the USDA and the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie,” Bell said. “They were able to help me get a new bison at no cost because of a surplus.”

Bison are still found in the wild plains states like South Dakota and Montana.

Bell said they haven’t named the new bison yet but their plan is to send information about their new acquisition to area schools to allow students to come up with a name, similar to how they came up with the name Pebbles. 

American bison once roamed the prairies of Illinois in vast numbers before the area became populated. Considered a circle of life, bison played a key role in the culture of American Indians.

Buffalo Rock's location specifically was used as a "blind canyon" to capture the buffalo.

The large animals, which are equipped with horns and known for their thundering herds, are docile at Buffalo Rock.

An enclosed shelter provides the bison with shade and water, and it offers visitors an up-close look. The shelter has windows from the walkway for peeking in. A trail wraps around the enclosure, giving visitors an opportunity to see the buffalo wherever they roam.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources takes care of the bison.

Caretakers make sure they have enough food and water, and make regular trips to look out for their general well-being.

Visitors are reminded not to feed the bison, which sometimes will come up to the fence to say hello or lie against the fencing to relax.

American bison facts:

Bison are the largest mammal in North America. Male bison (called bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall, while females (called cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds and reach a height of 4 to 5 feet.

What’s the difference between bison and buffalo? While they’re used interchangeably, in North America the scientific name is bison.

Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times.

You can judge a bison’s mood by its tail. When it hangs down and switches naturally, the bison is usually calm. If the tail is straight up, it may be ready to charge.

Bison can run up to 35 mph.

Bison are nearsighted. But they have excellent senses of smell and hearing.

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

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