MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Zoo and the DNR agreed to join forces Thursday in an effort to preserve and show off a herd of genetically-pure bison that lives in southwestern Minnesota.

According to a zoo press release, the two institutions will manage the herd at state parks and an exhibition at the zoo in an effort to teach the public about the massive and iconic species. The herd is more than 100 bison strong and currently lives in Blue Mounds State Park. The herd originated at the park in 1961, when three bison where brought there from Nebraska.

Zoo director Lee Ehmke said the zoo is trying to increase awareness about the need to preserve bison and the effort to restore the prairie ecosystem, which once covered Minnesota.

“Helping to expand the population and range of a keystone species like the bison, in collaboration with our colleagues at the DNR, is exactly the sort of conservation action our zoo is committed to engage in,” he said.

Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR’s parks and trails division, said the agreement will help Minnesota play a leading role in the effort to preserve one of North America’s most iconic species.

Bison were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s, when populations were down to about 600. Now, around 19,000 bison live in more than 50 conservation herds. Although the species has come a long way, it is still considered near-threatened and conservation-dependent, the zoo said.

The conservation and education effort is slated to begin in the fall of 2012.


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