It has been 150 years since bison have roamed across this rugged South Dakotan wilderness.
Thanks to a passionate group of conservationists, however, four bison were released into the Badlands National Park this week so they could run free across the prairies for the first time since 1870.
The World Wildlife Fund later described the historic moment in a blog post, saying: “The door of the gooseneck trailer clanged open and for a moment, the only sound was a lacerating wind whipping snow across the plains and canyons of Badlands National Park. A slew of onlookers waited in hushed anticipation. And then—as though a signaling bell chimed—four massive, majestic bison barreled through the opening and into the wild.”
The bison were released into the Badlands as a result of the WWF working with park representatives to purchase an additional 22,000 acres of bison habitat back in 2014. Coupled with the costs of installing fencing to separate the land from nearby cattle ranches, WWF supporters raised more than $750,000 for the project.
“Bison are North America’s largest and most iconic mammal, and WWF is thrilled to be part of an effort to create the second largest herd in the National Park system,” said Martha Kauffman, managing director of WWF’s Northern Great Plains program. “The project has touched the imaginations of people across the US, and the matching dollars that WWF has provided wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of our supporters.”
The initiative is particularly noteworthy since bison populations plummeted to just 325 during the late 1800s. Now, conservationists hope that their reintroduction to the Badlands will help to continue their mission of bringing the species back to its former glory.