The White Bison of Today

Bison friends, I’m guessing that by now you’ve likely seen or heard about the latest article about a white bison being born at Bear River State Park in Evanston, Wyoming. Here at the National Bison Association (NBA), we generally love to see bison in the news, but this story includes some questionable claims in most of the published articles, particularly about the occurrence of a white bison being born.  

The article details the May 16 birth of a 30-pound white bison calf at the park to its white mother. As of the most recent article two days ago, the calf is healthy and still being supported by its mother. After the initial burst of news stories came out about the event, we didn’t see another one for about two weeks. Since then, a slew of articles have been released and they’re still coming.

If you are familiar with the story, then you likely saw that many of the articles cite the chances of a white bison being born are one in ten million, “according to the National Bison Association.” The NBA has been wrongly credited with this estimate for at least 15 years, and it simply is not true. The truth is we simply don’t know the occurrence of a white bison because, to my knowledge, no one has ever kept track.

The NBA has great reverence for the spiritual significance of a white bison being born in Native American cultures. It’s also worth noting that the NBA counts Native Americans among its members and has a memorandum of understanding with the InterTribal Bison Council, which the NBA collaborates with on an array of bison matters.

In recent years, we’ve seen the proliferation of white bison, seemingly for the sole purpose of tourism by non-native people. Further complicating the situation is that one can breed a white bison rather easily by crossbreeding a plains bison with white Charolais cattle. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see folks promoting their white bison on social media and beyond these days. While we at the NBA fully support an individual’s right to pursue legal agricultural endeavors of their choosing on their property, we also prohibit the crossbreeding of bison with any other species. The prohibition of crossbreeding is part of our code of ethics, which NBA members abide by.

The NBA code of ethics explicitly states that members will “Never engage in deliberate cross-breeding of bison with another species.” We also offer bison genetic testing through the University of California at Davis’ genetics laboratory, which includes a Charolais diluter gene test to detect the presence of those alleles in the animal’s DNA. Further, the NBA has a policy to not sell white bison on its classified service, the Trading Board, due to the mere potential of crossbreeding.

Bear River State Park is not a member of the NBA, and based on some articles, the calf’s mother was one of two white bison donated to the park years prior by a local ranch, which is also not an NBA member. I state this because a number of NBA members have contacted our office about this potential violation of our shared code of ethics. This exhibits to me our memberships’ great concern about the potential crossbreeding of any bison, not to mention the overall welfare of the bison species, and I applaud our members for their concern.

Like so many other instances in today’s information age, things are not always as they seem on the surface. Unfortunately, bison are not immune to these misnomers, but rest assured, NBA members will continue to responsibly breed and steward our national mammal of the United States while restoring the species through responsible farming and ranching.