Bison herd released at Minneopa State Park, with drive-thru

A group of 11 genetically-rare bison were released into Minneopa State Park near Mankato, Minn. on Friday as part of a joint conservation effort by the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Zoo. You will have the chance to see the bison on a Yellowstone-style drive-through road within the park.

The group of 11 bison includes cow/calf pairs and yearling bison heifers. Some of the cows are bred and will calve next spring, and the herd should eventually grow to 30 to 40 bison.

Bringing back wild bison in Minnesota

Wild bison haven’t been seen in Minnesota since 1880 in Norman County. North American bison herds were once estimated at 30 and 60 million animals, but they were hunted to near-extinction in the late 19th century.

Bison were reintroduced to Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, Minn. in 1961. Genetic testing of the Blue Mounds herd from 2011 to 2013 found they were largely free of DNA that would be acquired through cross-breeding with cattle, making them extremely rare. Of the more than 500,000 bison in North America, fewer than 30,000 have this level of genetic purity.

Why Minneopa State Park?

Minneopa State Park was chosen because it has a large enough prairie to accommodate a bison herd, and it’s close to potential research partners.

It will take time for the bison to get used to their new environment, so the entire campground side of Minneopa State Park will be closed until the bison are acclimated. The DNR expects to reopen the area by mid-October.