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HOT SPRINGS, S.D. (AP) — Workers at South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park are rounding up bison to thin the herd, give inoculations and pull tail hairs for genetic analysis.

Wind Cave bison genes have been handed down undiluted since a handful of diverse ancestors from the Bronx Zoo arrived at the park in 1913, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Today, Wind Cave bison have 10 genetic variations that experts haven’t seen anywhere else. The park is sending some younger bison to parks in other states to spread them out.

Trucks will carry 2-year-olds and yearlings to Arizona, Washington, Indiana and Kansas later this week. Bison too old or too young will return to the park’s prairie.

The bison’s lineage will remain intact even for the descendants of those traveling to Arizona’s Raymond Wildlife Area or Kansas’ Smokey Valley Ranch. Should disease wipe out the bison, a genetically identical herd could be quickly repopulated, said Greg Schroeder, the park’s chief of resource management.

“They’re good producers,” he said, adding that the park removes 130 to 160 bison every two years to maintain the population near 550, which is what Wind Cave can support.

Officials with northwest Indiana’s Nature Conservancy Kankakee Sands prairie restoration project said they’re counting on bison to eat a lot of grass. Project member Ted Anchor said tall grass crowds out shorter species that thrived when bison manicured the lands.

“A prairie without bison isn’t a prairie,” Anchor said.

Shelly Shepherd with the Arizona Game and Fish Department said the unique genetics of the Wind Cave herd attracted the state’s interest.

“The pure bison lineage is a great opportunity for us,” she said.

Shepherd said the Raymond Wildlife Area will use the Wind Cave bison to replace an earlier bison herd that had cattle genes.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,