The burly, bull bison did his job.
As a result, the bison (i.e. American buffalo) population at Battelle-Darby Metro Park near West Jefferson in western Franklin County is booming.
Metro park staff borrowed the 5-year-old male from The Wilds in Muskingum County in August 2013 to mate with the park’s six resident female bison. He apparently took to the task enthusiastically.
Nine months and 15 days later, a female calf appeared in the tall grass of the herd’s summer pasture, located just east of the park’s nature center, according to Peg Hanley, metro parks spokesperson.
Four additional calves followed. One was stillborn; another died of a heart defect shortly after birth.
But calves born on June 18 and July 1 appear healthy as they scamper along side their mothers, Hanley said.
Herd behavior changed when the babies arrived. All the animals became protective of the young ones. They remain aloof and are no longer lured by treats or the rattle of a grain bucket, Hanley said.
Park naturalist Tim Taylor said the sixth bison cow does not appear to be in a “family way.” Although the animal’s size and shaggy coat make pregnancy difficult to verify.
Better luck next rut.
Park staff celebrated the births with a baby shower on June 14. Visitors enjoyed cake and other treats and the fuzzy, orange-colored offspring obliged by roaming close to the fence in full view of their admirers.
“The cute factor is really nice now,” Hanley said.
Cute may not last long since the 40-pound babies are likely to reach 400 pounds by January, she noted.
They have more true bison genes since their father was a product of artificial insemination and his roots go back to South Dakota, Hanley said.
Taylor said the bull may eventually return to The Wilds, but he will definitely hang around through the upcoming August rut.
Grazing space and genes will determine the herd’s eventual size, so procreation will not go “wild,” Hanley said.
Visitors to Battelle-Darby’s nature center will soon be able to watch the animals via cameras focused on their pasture.
“It’s not a web-cam,” Taylor emphasized. “But visitors will see them on a big screen at the center.”
Bison (buffalo) are native to Ohio. Prior to settlement, massive herds roamed the Darby Plains and other tributaries of the Scioto River.
Disease, drought and hunting took their toll on the animals and pushed them westward. By 1887, less than 1,000 bison were left in the United States, according to various Internet sites.
Restoration efforts began in 1904. Today, there are an estimated 500,000 bison in the country. The largest herd is in Yellowstone National Park.
Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1616 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.