Oct
13
2006

Once in a white buffalo

White buffalo: A huge increase in the occurance of white bison has scientists scratching their heads about what's going on with the genetics of the breedCourtesy xxxtoff
White buffalo: A huge increase in the occurance of white bison has scientists scratching their heads about what's going on with the genetics of the breed
Courtesy xxxtoff

What's going on with bison genes these days? Scientists aren't sure but they're checking into the possibilities.

A white bison was extremely rare back in the days before the westward movement of white civilization. At its peak back then, there were 80 million bison roaming the ranges. The presence of a white bison was so unusual, native peoples thought its appearance was a message from the gods.

But in the past dozen years, two dozen white bison calves have been reared in captivity out of a population of around 500,000. The new white bison aren't albinos, but genetic ancestors of those famous rare bison of yore.

Geneticists who know about bison are amazed at the long odds to have so many white creatures coming back, for such a recessive gene to have so much prominence again. And they're zeroing in on some significant factors.

Several possible causes could be hyping the chances of the recessive gene to be present in bison calves: the impact of exposure to radiation, some type of chemical exposure or some natural accident in the process of cell-duplicating DNA.

Another factor may be the result of significant cross-breeding of bison with French Charolais cattle, which are white, to create the hybrid animal that is butchered into "beefalo."

The issue came into more focus this summer when a second white bison was born into the Dave Heider herd near Janesville, Wisc. For years, Native Americans came to his farm to see Miracle, a white bison that was born in 1994. It died two years ago, but then this August another white bison was born of the same herd. That Bison has been named Second Chance. While no DNA testing has been done on the herd, the situation is mystifying as the two white bison come from completely different blood lines.

White bison have been considered so rare and special that it carried high spiritual significance to the Lakota people. And members of the tribe are looking to a spiritual explanation for the significant rise in the numbers of white bison, saying that it signifies a need for people to unify and settle differences.

On the other hand, some native peoples are suspicious of the efforts to breed white bison as being a way to exploit their religious beliefs and practices. Those practices assert that white bison are the sacred spirit of the White Buffalo Calf Woman who first appeared 2,000 years ago during a plague of starvation for the Lakota people.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

chancy's picture
chancy says:

the white buffalo are buitiful animals

posted on Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:42pm

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