Bison herd's first baby of 2021 is here

Edie Schmierbach, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·3 min read

Apr. 22—(This revised version corrects the number bison in Minneopa State Park's herd).

MANKATO — Minneopa State Park's herd has a baby bison (da, da, da, dah) and that cute calf's popularity may rival that of a song about a little shark that went viral a few years ago.

"There's tons of curiosity about the first calf to be born this year," said Craig Beckman, Minneopa's manager.

"For the yearlings, it's the first time they ever seen a calf."

Mom has her hooves full controlling the noses of other females in the herd that want to sniff and nuzzle the baby, he said.

Bison cows usually give birth next month, but there have been April surprises for park staff.

Beckman first spotted 2021's first baby when he drove the park's bison road early Friday.

"It's legs were still pretty wobbly when I first saw it."

Park staff who checked the herd Wednesday afternoon still saw just one calf among the herd of about 30 bison.

An estimated dozen more babies are expected this spring.

Beckman advises park visitors on the lookout for newborns to use extra caution when they are near the huge animals' turf this spring. Bison, especially first-time mothers, are "a little more edgy and a little more protective" than usual of the herd's youngest members.

A close encounter is not only potentially dangerous to humans, but bison can be injured while running from a perceived danger, he said.

"Always stay in your vehicle ... Give the bison a lot of space, especially if they are close to the fence."

Beckman said visitors using the trails near where the herd roams should not climb on the fence or pull on its wires.

Bison get nervous around loud noises or lots of activity, so visitors should keep their voices low and movements at a minimum.

The small herd was started in 2015. The park is believed to have the capacity for 40 bison.

Later this year, Minnesota Zoo staff will visit Minneopa to determine which calves born in 2020 will be moved to other locations in the state.

Relocating yearlings to Minnesota, Blue Mound State Park or Oxbow Park/Zullman Zoo near Byron is a measure to prevent young bison from inbreeding with relatives.

Before the bison, the prairie side of Minneopa and the park overall had fairly low visitor numbers. That all changed when the bison arrived, and numbers remain strong.

Last year Minneopa State Park had about 277,000 visitors, said Todd Dailey, assistant park manager. Numbers were down slightly from 2019, but the park south of Mankato remains one of the most popular attractions in southern Minnesota.

Closures as a result of the pandemic affected spring visitor counts in 2020; however, numbers rose significantly over the summer, Dailey said.

"I'm sure we would have had a record year for attendance if we hadn't had closures."

Minneopa's Bison Drive Road is open between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. The herd roams more than 300 acres of enclosed park property, so sightings don't always occur.

State park vehicle passes are required in the park. Pets must be kept on leashes at all times.