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Montana Photographer Captures ‘mind-blowing’ Images of Rare White Bison Born at Yellowstone

White Bison. Footage: ERIN BRAATEN, DANCING ASPENS PHOTOGRAPHY

An extraordinary event has captured the attention of Native American tribes and wildlife enthusiasts alike: an incredibly rare white bison calf has been photographed in Yellowstone National Park. This sighting, hailed as a religious sign by many Native American communities, is seen as a harbinger of major change.

A Historic Sighting in Lamar Valley

Footage: ERIN BRAATEN, DANCING ASPENS PHOTOGRAPHY

Montana photographer Erin Braaten captured the stunning images of the young buffalo in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley on June 4. Braaten, who was visiting the park with three of her eight children, initially mistook the calf for a coyote due to its sandy light color. The calf was spotted across a river, nearly 100 meters (330 feet) away.

This calf is the first white bison to be born in the last wild herd in the United States, according to modern records. Previous white bison births have occurred in captivity and often involved parents with cow DNA, making this wild birth particularly significant.

A Sacred Event for Native Tribes

Footage: ERIN BRAATEN, DANCING ASPENS PHOTOGRAPHY

The birth of a white buffalo holds deep spiritual significance for many Native American tribes of the Great Plains, including the Lakota, Sioux, Cherokee, Comanche, and Navajo peoples. The Lakota legend speaks of a time around 2,000 years ago when a beautiful woman appeared to the people during a period of food scarcity. She delivered the sacred gifts of a pipe and a bundle, promising to return and restore harmony to a troubled world. Upon her departure, she transformed into a white buffalo calf, signifying the return of the bison and the answering of prayers.Montana photographer captures ‘mind-blowing’ images of rare white bison reportedly born at Yellowstone

Celebration and Reflection

Footage: ERIN BRAATEN, DANCING ASPENS PHOTOGRAPHY

Yellowstone park officials have not yet officially confirmed the birth of the calf. However, an event to celebrate its arrival is planned for June 26 in West Yellowstone, Montana, hosted by the Buffalo Field Campaign. This group advocates for the buffalo, and the celebration will include attendance by Lakota elders and delegates from other tribes.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th generation keeper of the sacred pipe believed to have been given by the white buffalo woman, spoke of the profound significance of the calf’s arrival. “All nations should come together at their sacred places and unify with us in prayer,” he said, describing the event as both “a blessing and a warning.” The calf’s physical characteristics—black eyes, a black nose, and black hooves—align with the prophecy.

The National Bison Association estimates that only one to two white bison are born each year. Since 1994, when a white buffalo named Miracle was born on a Wisconsin farm, there has been a white buffalo alive in North America at almost all times, according to Chief Looking Horse.

A Message for the Present

wood bison
Laura Whitehouse, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The sighting of this white bison calf has stirred a mix of awe, reverence, and reflection. For many, it is a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness of life and the spiritual messages that nature can convey. As tribes work to interpret the meaning of the calf’s arrival, the event underscores the importance of unity, respect for nature, and the deep cultural traditions that continue to guide many Native American communities today.

What is the significance of bison in Yellowstone National Park?

wood bison
Wood bison bull. Arthur T. LaBar from Central Kentucky, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

bison are iconic symbols of Yellowstone National Park, representing the park’s rich natural heritage and its role in bison conservation. They are the largest land mammals in North America and have been a vital part of the ecosystem for thousands of years.

How many bison live in Yellowstone National Park?

bison
Bison. Image by ViralHog via YouTube

As of recent estimates, Yellowstone National Park is home to approximately 4,800 to 5,000 bison, making it one of the largest and most genetically pure populations in North America.

Are Yellowstone bison genetically pure?

Bison
Image by Nicolas Petit via Pexels

Yes, the bison in Yellowstone are considered to be one of the few remaining genetically pure herds, free from cattle gene introgression. This genetic purity is crucial for the conservation of the species.

What do Yellowstone bison eat?

American Bison
American Bison and calf in Yellowstone National Park. Image via Arturo de Frias Marques, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bison in Yellowstone primarily graze on grasses and sedges. Their diet changes with the seasons, and during winter, they can often be seen using their massive heads to clear snow and access buried vegetation.

How do bison contribute to the Yellowstone ecosystem?

Wildlife in Illinois
Bison and water on the rolling prairie outside an observation deck at Wildlife Prairie Park near Peoria, Illinois. Image via Katherine Johnson, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bison play a critical role in maintaining the health of the Yellowstone ecosystem. Their grazing patterns help shape plant communities, and their movements contribute to seed dispersal and soil aeration.

What is the history of bison in Yellowstone?

European bison.
Bison. Image via Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bison have roamed the Yellowstone region for thousands of years. However, by the early 1900s, they were nearly exterminated due to overhunting and habitat loss. Conservation efforts have since helped their population recover.

How do bison behave in Yellowstone?

Lost calf finds mama Bison
Lost calf finds mama Bison. Image by RON STERBENZ, YELLOWSTONEVIDEO.COM

Bison are generally peaceful animals but can become aggressive if threatened or during mating season. They often travel in herds and are known for their seasonal migrations within the park.

What challenges do Yellowstone bison face?

Bison at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone bison face several challenges, including harsh winter conditions, predation by wolves, and human-wildlife conflicts. Additionally, management practices, such as culling, are sometimes necessary to control population size and prevent the spread of disease.

Are there any predators of bison in Yellowstone?

Bison Stampede. Credit: ViralHog YouTube

Yes, wolves and grizzly bears are the primary predators of bison in Yellowstone. Wolf packs, in particular, target young, old, or weak bison, playing a significant role in the natural population control.

How do bison survive the harsh winters in Yellowstone?

American Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Image via depositphotos

Bison have several adaptations that help them survive Yellowstone’s harsh winters, including thick fur, a layer of fat, and a behavior known as “cratering,” where they use their heads to push away snow and access food.

Can visitors see bison year-round in Yellowstone?

Bisons
Image by Nick Dunlap via Unsplash

Yes, visitors can see bison year-round in Yellowstone. They are often spotted in the Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and near the park’s thermal areas, where they seek warmth during the winter months.

How large can Yellowstone bison get?

Bison
Bison via Unsplash

Adult male bison, also known as bulls, can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand around 6 feet tall at the shoulder. Females, or cows, are smaller, typically weighing up to 1,000 pounds.

What is the lifespan of a bison in Yellowstone?

Bison
Image via Unsplash

Bison in Yellowstone can live up to 15-20 years in the wild, though many factors, including predation, disease, and environmental conditions, can affect their lifespan.

How do bison contribute to tourism in Yellowstone?

Bison stampede
Image via Nick P on youtube

Bison are a major attraction for tourists visiting Yellowstone National Park. Their presence offers unique wildlife viewing opportunities and helps boost the local economy through tourism-related activities and services.

What are the conservation efforts for bison in Yellowstone?

European bison (Bison bonasus).
European bison (Bison bonasus). Image by bereta via Depositphotos

Conservation efforts for Yellowstone bison include habitat protection, genetic diversity maintenance, disease management, and population control through culling and relocation. These efforts aim to ensure the long-term survival of this iconic species.

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