Rare White Bison Calf, Deemed Sacred By Native American Tribe, Goes Missing In Yellowstone

A white bison calf, born on June 4 and considered culturally significant by Native American tribes, has gone missing, according to Yellowstone National Park (YNP). The park confirmed the birth of the leucistic calf in Lamar Valley, but park staff have been unable to locate it since.

The calf, distinguished by its black eyes and pigmented hooves, is not an albino but rather leucistic. Biologists who analyzed photos of the calf highlighted the rarity of such a birth, a phenomenon not seen since the near extinction of bison in the late 19th century. The birth is considered an extraordinary event, occurring in about 1 in a million births, and is significant for the ecocultural recovery of the bison population in Yellowstone.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe and Bundle from the Great Sioux Nation, named the calf Wakan Gli, meaning Sacred Return or Comes Holy, during a ceremony in West Yellowstone, Montana. The event, held on June 26, attracted approximately 500 attendees, including numerous Native American tribes.

The white bison calf holds deep cultural and spiritual importance in Native American culture. The Great Sioux Nation believes that the birth fulfills an ancient prophecy, symbolizing both a blessing and a warning. Chief Arvol Looking Horse emphasized the need for unity and positive change for the future of the children, as prophesied by the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

Bison calving typically occurs in late spring and early summer, but approximately 20% of calves die shortly after birth due to natural hazards. Despite this, there is hope that the calf, Wakan Gli, is still alive. Mike Mease, co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign, expressed optimism that the calf might be in an area away from visitor trails and reiterated the significance of the prophecy.

In a related event, an albino bison calf was born at Wagon Springs Ranch in Burnet, Texas, in early May. The offspring of two blond bison, this calf is even rarer than the leucistic one in Yellowstone, showcasing the extraordinary diversity within the bison population.

The disappearance of the white bison calf has sparked a wave of concern and hope among those aware of its cultural significance. Many are calling for efforts to locate the calf, while others focus on the broader message of the prophecy and the need for societal change.