A rare white bison calf has been born in southwest Wyoming, and residents are flocking to the area to try and catch a glimpse.
The baby bison, born on May 16 at Bear River State Park, has pale fur that’s likely the result of “a very small amount of cattle genetics mixed in, rather than a fluke like albinism or leucism,” the park shared in a Facebook post.
“Most of the bison you find anymore have some cattle genetics,” Tyfani Sager, the park’s superintendent, tells the publication. The species was nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s, to the point that most surviving bison were maintained by ranchers. They kept the bison in herds with cattle and often encouraged them to interbreed.
Indeed, a 2022 study examined 25 American bison and found that all had some amount of domestic cattle genes in their DNA. However, “a white bison birth is still fairly rare,” Sager tells Cowboy State Daily.
The calf’s mother, a two-year-old bison named Wyoming Hope, also has white fur, so wildlife officials were not totally surprised by the newborn’s coloring. But they were still very excited: The calf is the first white bison to be born inside the park, which is located in Evanston, Wyoming.
“There’s not very many of these white bison, but they’re not as rare as the albinos,” Sager tells Fox13’s Darienne DeBrule. “There was a 50/50 chance it could be brown or white.”
The calf weighed 30 pounds at birth and, though small, appears to be healthy. Park officials have not been able to determine the calf’s sex yet, nor have they given it a name.
Established in 1991, Bear River State Park encompasses 324 acres in the Cowboy State’s far southwestern corner, not far from the border with Utah. It’s home to captive herds of bison and elk for “public viewing and education,” per the park’s website.
“Our bison have been a part of the park since the park opened,” according to the site. “Our herd consists of a mixed-aged group of females, or cows, and at least one male, or bull. Due to the limited amount of pasture we have available, we try to maintain our herd at seven to ten adult animals.”
Wyoming Hope is one of two adult female white bison that live at the park. The other could give birth as early as next spring, which means another white calf could soon be on the way.
A white buffalo calf is “the most sacred living thing on Earth” to some Native American cultures, including the Sioux, Cherokee, Navajo, Lakota and Dakota, per the National Park Service (NPS). The birth of one of these rare pale creatures is “a sign that good times are about to happen.”
“The calf is a sign to begin life’s sacred loop,” per the NPS.
A white buffalo calf plays a significant role in one of the Lakota people’s sacred stories, called Ptesan Wi, or White Buffalo Calf Woman, per the NPS. In the story, a beautiful holy, or wakan, woman presented herself to the Lakota people, along with a highly sacred object known as the white buffalo calf pipe, or chanupa.
“She taught them the mysteries of the Earth,” per the nonprofit American Indian College Fund. “She taught them to pray and follow the proper path while on Earth.”
Just before leaving, she rolled on the ground four times, each time becoming a buffalo cow of a different color. After the last roll, she became a white buffalo and walked until she disappeared.
“She instructed our people that as long as we performed these ceremonies, we would always remain caretakers and guardians of sacred land,” explained Joseph Chasing Horse, a member of the Lakota people, in 2007. “She told us that as long as we took care of it and respected it, that our people would never die and would always live.”