New Bison Herd Arrives at Golden Gate Park

A new age of Bison for Golden Gate Park

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011  |  Updated 12:47 PM PDT
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NBC Bay Area's Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

NBC Bay Area's Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

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Far longer than there’s been a Golden Gate Bridge, Treasure Island or Coit Tower, there were bison roaming Golden Gate Park.

The first herd moved into a  pen in the park’s Music Concourse in 1891, and to its current west-end digs in 1899.

But following the deaths of two older females this year, the once-mighty herd was reduced to three females nearing the end of their lives. The future of this longtime tradition was in jeopardy.

But on Monday, a livestock truck pulled into the park, and unloaded the future of the buffalo exhibit. Seven females, all around six-months old, stepped into the bison paddock, separated by a fence from the park’s three older bison.

“Right now we’re keeping them separated from our older females,” said San Francisco Zookeeper Sarah King, “so that everybody can get accustomed to each other.”

The seven bison were purchased from a ranch in Redding. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma helped arrange funding and U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband Dick Blum chipped-in toward the nearly $7,200 price tag. He also donated $50,000 to update the bison’s crumbling paddock. 

“In fact, the story goes Mr. Blum purchased a herd of bison in honor of his wife in 1984,” said San Francisco Parks and Recreation director Phil Ginsburg.

On Tuesday, the lumbering older gals were busy sizing up the new girls. The two groups of old and new will be united in a couple of months – once keepers declare them disease, and conflict-free.  The San Francisco Zoo, which cares for the herd, decided against adding males to the mix. Zookeepers say males can get a bit unruly, especially when ladies are in the picture.

 “So for the safety of the keepers and the bison, we prefer to just have the girls,” said King.

Just over a century ago, there were an estimated six-million bison roaming North America. By 1900, their numbers had been decimated – leaving only about a thousand. Though man was responsible for running them to near extinction, he’s also responsible for their rebound.

“In order to do that they actually had to crossbreed cattle with the existing bison,” said King.  “In fact, most of the bison today have cattle genes in them.”

The introduction of new blood into Golden Gate Park will ensure the existence of the park’s herd.  Even in the dense urban landscape of San Francisco, a stroll in the park will wind past ten bison, gently grazing in a rolling field.  

 “Having the new bison insures that prolonged existence of this area,” said King. “I think that’s a great thing for the city.”

Note: San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department will hold a naming contest for one of the new bison.

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