In person and online, observers are celebrating Bear River State Park's "little white ball of fluff," the first white bison calf to be born there in its 32-year history.
Park rangers at the Bear River State Park in Evanston, Wyoming, woke up to a pleasant surprise last month when they found that one of their female bison had given birth to a “little white ball of fluff,” the park’s superintendent Tyfani Sager told The Guardian.
A white heifer named Wyoming Hope, one of two white heifers in the park, gave birth to a rare white calf in the early morning hours of May 16.
Although park rangers have not determined the sex of the baby for fear that close contact could scare the herd, they have been able to determine that the calf is a white bison and does not have albinism, leucism, or any other genetic mutation that would explain its white fur.
The calf is also healthy despite only weighing 30 pounds at its birth. Typically, newborn bison can weigh up to 70 pounds, so the newborn white calf is on the smaller side. Park staff think the size may be due to the young age of the mother, which is only two years old.
“It was up and suckling on mom within 15 minutes after it was born,” Sager proudly told The Guardian.
According to park staff, the calf’s coloring is due to a certain amount of cattle genetics mixed with bison genetics. Although the birth is a rare sight, it isn’t on the level of a 1-in-10-million fluke like albinism.
As Wyoming paper Cowboy State Daily put it, this means the white bison is “fun-special but not especially genetically unique. It’s like the difference between finding an arrowhead and finding the Hope Diamond.”
The cattle genetics could have come from Charolais cattle, which ranchers have kept since the 1800s.
“Most of the bison you find anymore have some cattle genetics. They were nearly hunted to extinction by the late 1800s. People got concerned about extinction and cattle inbreeding was used. A white bison birth is still fairly rare,” Sager told the Cowboy State Daily.
The rarity of these animals has also inspired Native American tribes to honor and worship them as bringers of good luck.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), the white bison calf is “the most sacred living thing on Earth” to tribes like the Sioux, Cherokee, Navajo, Lakota, and Dakota.
“Some American Indians say the birth of a white calf is an omen because the birth takes place in the most unexpected places and often happens among the poorest of people,” the NPS wrote. “The birth is sacred within the American Indian communities, because it brings a sense of hope and is a sign that good times are about to happen.”
Curious visitors across the country have traveled to the park to glimpse the rare calf. According to The Guardian, Bear River State Park usually hosts 1,000 visitors a day, but in the past few weeks, that number has grown by an extra 300 a day coming to see the calf.
Additionally, the park is enlisting the help of its awe-struck visitors to name the baby. So far, the top names have been Liberty, Pearl, Equality, and Sparky.
Even for observers who may not make it to the park to see the calf, the news and images of the baby are just as heartwarming.
“[It’s just] absolutely breathtaking. A gift from above to be able to see such a majestic animal in the wild with her newborn calf,” one Facebook user wrote.
For more stories like the birth of a rare white bison calf, check out the recent birth of endangered red wolves, a species that was declared extinct in the wild in the 1980s. Then, look at the haunting images from the 19th-century mass extermination of American bison.