Browse for the Bison

National Bison Day is an annual holiday to honor the nation’s largest land mammal, a species that has quite the history. In the 1800s, there were more than 30 million bison across the country, but less than 100 years ago, bison were considered endangered with less than 1,000 left, nearly hunted to extinction for their meat and pelts. After a successful conservation and breeding program, bisons’ numbers are now well over 500,000. Without this species’ success story, the Zoo’s two bison, Oakley and Lily, would never have been able to become ambassadors for their species. To show our appreciation for our bison, we decided to prepare a special Animeals for them.

This special meal was prepared by Zoo Sous Chef James and his assistant, Commissary Intern Alexis. The ingredients needed for the meal were grown and gathered by Horticulture Technician Kelly from the Zoo’s very own gardens at the Animal Wellness Campus.

A bison’s diet isn’t like some of the other animals at the Zoo. Instead of needing a daily diet of produce like veggies, fruits and greens, they eat a variety of browse and hay, and are offered sweet potatoes, apples and carrots as rewards during training sessions. For this Animeals, Oakley and Lily were offered sweet potato vine, basil flowers, pea pods, Russian olive branches and a special treat of Calendula flowers. A barrel feeder was also incorporated to encourage natural foraging behaviors and to show off the colorful array of plants used.

After embellishing the barrels with the tasty treats, ZooFarm Keepers Martha and Tara cleaned the yard. The bison were then given access to the yard and immediately walked over to their barrels to inspect their meal. The purple-colored sweet potato vine was an instant hit with both ladies pulling on the browse until they slid off of the barrels and piled onto the ground. With Lily and Oakley munching away at their individual meals, this Animeals was determined a success by Keepers, Chef James and Alexis. If the bison could give a rating, it would definitely be four out of four hooves.

Lily inspects the first barrel but quickly moves onto the second.

Oakley spies something yummy and approaches the barrel of browse.

Oakley munches on some sweet potato vine.

Looks like Lily didn’t want an audience, especially not the paparazzi, while she eats!

Check the blog in December for our next Animeals blog featuring our fast and furry friends down in Africa: Charo and Lima the cheetahs!