First bison calf of 2013 born at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Signs that spring is officially here are popping up at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. The first bouncing baby bison was seen this week being bashful and walking closely alongside its mother.

In the spring of 2012, 674 calves were born. The preserve staff expects another 600-700 for this spring making now a great time to visit the preserve to view the precious bundles of joy along with the 2,117 adult bison that roam freely. Young bison are fun to watch as they can be rather playful. Visitors may see young bison frolicking, chasing, battling, butting, kicking, and racing. Such activity aids muscle development and coordination important later in life.

However, bison aren’t serious all the time. Bison have a keen sense of smell and maintain contact with one another by uttering hog-like grunts. Bison are ordinarily mild-mannered, but can be aggressive. Threat postures, which may be a prelude to fighting, include a snort or a growling, guttural bellow with head up, mouth wide open, and tail erect. Heed these warnings!

For the public’s safety, when visiting a bison herd, please observe the following rules:

* Rule No. 1: Stay in your car!

* Rule No. 2: Stay in your car!

Bison are fast — they can go from 0 to Oops! (up to 35mph) faster than you can say it! If they’re blocking the road, wait. Though they may be big and fuzzy, bison are essentially wild animals and are not cuddly.

* Rule No. 3: Stay in your car!

Consisting of almost 40,000 acres near Pawhuska in Osage County, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left in the world! Since 1993, The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of free-roaming bison. The herd started with 300 bison in 1993 and continues to thrive despite the drought.

“Keep in mind that the Tallgrass bison herd is not given any dietary supplements or hay – just the grass that grows and the water that flows,” Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Director Bob Hamilton said.

Last year’s calving rate was 72.9 percent which was above the 19-year average of 71 percent. Of the 674 babies, 333 of them were female and 341 were male. The largest calf weighed 445 lbs. (6-8 months old), while the smallest calf (1-2 months old) weighed 85 lbs.

The preserve is open every day from dawn to dusk with no charge for admittance and can be accessed via county roads. There are free ranging bison herds, scenic turnouts, hiking trails, picnic tables, breezeway information and public restrooms at the Historic Bunkhouse. The gift shop/visitor center is open from March through mid-November from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is operated by docents, and is typically open every day.

Directions to the preserve: From downtown Pawhuska, drive north on Kiheka at the intersection of U.S. Highway 60 (at the corner of the triangle-shaped building), follow signs to the preserve headquarters (approximately 18 miles).

Bison Facts

• Bison is the correct term for the mammals on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. According to scientists, true buffalo are confined to Africa and Southeast Asia.

• Before the settlements of modern civilization, around 30 million bison roamed across North America. By 1890, fewer than 600 plains bison were alive.

• Bison are the largest native animals on the North American continent.

• Full-grown bison bulls stand about 6.5 feet at the shoulder and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

• Adult bison consume more than 30 pounds of grass (air-dry weight) in a day.

• Bison can jump 6 feet vertically. Because they reportedly can jump more than 7 feet horizontally, “bisonguards” on the Preserve are 14 feet wide. (This is double the standard width of a cattleguard.)

• Bison can run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

• Bison are powerful swimmers, navigating with all but hump, muzzle, and top of the head submerged.

• Both sexes have horns; the cow’s are smaller. A bull bison can be identified from a cow by wider, thicker horns; a wider skull; and a generally more massive structure.

• The gestation period for bison is 9.5 months.

• Bison calves are generally born in the spring and weigh 30-40 pounds.

• The bison was named the state mammal of Oklahoma by the legislature in 1972.