In less than a year since 10 buffalo returned to the Wind River Indian Reservation for the first time in 130 years, the first buffalo calf was born last Wednesday.
Jason Baldes, bison representative for the Shoshone tribe, said the sex of the calf has not yet been discerned. He said he discover a cow was pregnant about three months ago.
The buffalo arrived on Nov. 1 to the Shoshone Buffalo Habitat Enclosure and were released on 300 acres of land owned by the tribe near Morton. After a few days of getting acclimated, the bison were released on Nov. 3 during a large, public celebratory event.
"The birth of the calf is an honor bestowed upon us by the Creator, an homage to what we are doing to bring buffalo back to our lands and culture," Baldes said.
The return of the buffalo was made possible with the collaboration of several agencies including the National Wildlife Federation, which said the calf represents the culmination of years of work to bring the iconic species back, as well as the rebirth of the Shoshone's cultural and ecological connections to buffalo.
"The circle was completed with the return of buffalo in November," said Garrit Voggesser, Tribal Partnerships Director for the National Wildlife Federation. "With the birth of this calf, we recognize that the buffalo's return wasn't a finale, but the beginning of a new chapter in bison conservation for the tribes."
The return of the buffalo to the Wind River Basin for the first time since 1885 has been characterized as a major milestone in restoring a critical species to the landscape and restoring a people's culture and heritage.
The reservation has a long history of conservation successes, according to the NWF. The tribes designated the nation's first wilderness area in 1938, more than two decades before passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
In the early 1980s, they enacted hunting regulations to conserve wildlife and have developed plans to manage grizzlies and wolves.
Other tribal lands in the Great Plains have also seen efforts to restore the bison.
Bison from Yellowstone have been released on the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana.
In 2014, U.S. and Canadian tribes signed a first-of-its-kind treaty to restore wild bison to their lands - grasslands and prairies covering a combined 6.3 million acres, nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
The goal on the Wind River reservation is to expand the bison herd to about 1,000 over the next 10 to 15 years.
The bison's return means all the major ungulate species that roamed tribal lands before Lewis and Clark arrived are now living on the reservation. (The Lewis and Clark Expedition itself never entered what is now Wyoming, Wyoming, but men who were part of it later explored the state.)
Baldes said the 2.2 million-acre reservation has more habitat for bison than Yellowstone National Park.
On the day the calf was born, Baldes said he was lucky enough to be present along with others to witness how each buffalo approached the calf and individually greeted it.
"It's a close-knit group," he said.
They plan to add additional buffalo from another conservation population in the U.S.
Baldes said they are proud to have the bison back as they've "jumped through every hoop" to make sure disease is not an issue. Brucellosis has been a continuing issue with bison in the Yellowstone area.
The 11 bison are micro-chipped and the Shoshone tribe is currently working with Baldes to include the bison in the tribal game and code regulations that help apply regulations, management and enforcing of laws to protect the herd.