The Minnesota Zoo, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources established a partnership in 2012 to conserve and enhance the bison genome in the state of Minnesota. This partnership manages bison herds at Blue Mounds State Park, Minneopa State Park, and at the Minnesota Zoo. The main goal for these herds is to have high quality genetics, free of cross-breeding with domestic cattle so that we can preserve this species and keep them unchanged by humans through time.
Close herd management is needed to keep our bison healthy. Genetic testing is conducted annually to detect any presence of cattle DNA and new breeding bulls are sought out from other conservation herds in the country to add new diversity to the Minnesota population when possible. However, even though the genetics are closely watched, all herd members are being managed as wild animals in an open prairie landscape to allow the herd to look and behave like their ancient ancestors.
The goal is to have 500 or more bison roaming within the Minnesota conservation herd lands. Right now, we have approximately 150 living in two state parks, as well as at the Minnesota Zoo. Additional state parks or other organizations may be added in the future to increase our herd size closer to this goal. The Zoo herd will always be managed at around a dozen animals. Two to four calves are born at the Zoo every year and they are eventually released onto state park lands when they are approximately 2 years old. Since 2015, seven bison have been sent from the Minnesota Zoo to Blue Mounds State Park and Minneopa State Park and everyone involved is looking forward to more successful reintroductions for this incredible species and national symbol.