Wild bison were near extinction around 1900 due to sport hunting and mass slaughter. Conservation efforts have helped and now the first baby bison in Illinois was spotted on Monday morning.
Bison used to roam throughout the U.S. but haven't been seen east of the Mississippi since the 1830s. Conservation efforts in the past century have brought bison numbers back up to to near 500,000, with 20,000 actually roaming freely. The Nachusa Grasslands is a prairie restoration project in Illinois where 30 bison were brought from an Iowa preserve last year.
Many of the bison brought to the reserve were pregnant but calves weren't expected until May. On a tour on Monday, April 6 Project Director Bill Kleiman noticed a calf.
"From a historical standpoint, this hasn't happened in Illinois in about 200 years," said Nachusa's restoration ecologist, Cody Considine .
The calf and mother "look great" and more are expected this spring.
Nachusa Grasslands is owned by The Nature Conservancy and they are using bison in order to restore the prairie due to bison's selective grazing. They will clear the way for native flowers and attract wider varieties of insects and birds, in order to restore the grasslands to its natural prairie state.
You can visit Nachusa Grasslands to observe the restoration efforts and try to spot the new calf. As of now the grassland project spans 500 acres in northern Illinois and by next fall it will include 1,000 more acres for the bison to roam.