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Bronx Zoo Reveals First-Ever Genetically Pure Bison Calf Produced By Embryo Transfer

(credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS)

(credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It’s being hailed as a breakthrough that may help restore the genetically pure bison population.

Officials with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo announced that a genetically pure bison calf has been born via embryo transfer.

“This science illustrates that we can engineer breeding of pure-bred bison so that their valuable genetics can be incorporated into other herds or used to create new herds,” said Dr. Jennifer Barfield, Colorado State University Assistant Professor. “We are able to produce bison that have pure genetics and are also free of any diseases that can afflict the bison population at Yellowstone.”

A second round of embryo transfers will take place with a herd of surrogate females this fall. The goal is to establish a herd of genetically pure bison.

The effort is a collaboration between Colorado State University, USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the American Prairie Reserve, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

It began in 2011, when a group of female bison were sent from the American Prairie Reserve to CSU’s facility in Colorado to act, essentially, as surrogates for fertilized embryos of genetically pure bison. After one of the bison was determined to be pregnant, the herd was moved to the Bronx Zoo in April. The calf was born in June.

Back in the early 1900s, the bison population was on the verge of extinction. After efforts to protect and grow the population, they number now in the hundreds of thousands. Most, however, have genetic traces of domestic cattle, from back when ranchers tried to interbreed to create stronger cattle.

“The Bronx Zoo played an important historical role in the recovery of the American bison. By establishing a pure herd the zoo will be, in essence, returning to its roots,” said Dr. Pat Thomas of the Bronx Zoo. “The offspring of these bison will be used in future restoration programs and to establish herds in other AZA-accredited zoos.”

The WCS is also participating in an effort to make the American bison the national mammal. For more information on that, click here.