‘Find the Baby Bison!’
“I’m surrounded by ancient sea creatures and the Tyrant Lizard King is staring me down.” This mysterious statement is actually one of the clues put out by the Bison Collaborative group, which is launching an interactive contest and educational initiative called Find the Baby Bison! to enlighten Canadians about bison, their habitat and the role we play in their lives.
“The decline of the bison is actually the most dramatic in human history,” said David Ireland, managing director of biodiversity programs at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM.) “There used to be about 30 million in the 1860s. But by 1902 there were literally only 25 bison left.”
But the inspiration for the contest came from nature itself.
“In July of 2011 we finally had prepared our large bull bison for the Shad Gallery of Biodiversity,” Ireland said. “He was supposed to have been installed during the gallery open in May of 2009, but he wasn’t ready so in his place we put [a bison calf].” However, eventually the large bison was finished and the calf was intended to return to the vaults. So the organizers at the ROM thought, what can we do?
“In nature,” Ireland explained, “When the big bull bison come back to rut for mating season in July and August, they scare off the calves sometimes. We decided to play on that natural history story,” he laughed.
“So the bull bison is back,” Ireland said. “[He] scared off her calf and is now missing in the ROM.”
So the museum, along with the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and Earth Rangers came together to launch this educational initiative. According to Ireland, the member organizations of the Bison Collaborative bring diverse and significant strengths to the partnership ranging from evidence-based scientific research and authoritative curriculum-based education programs, to community outreach and advocacy.
“The primary focus of this project is to encourage children to have fun,” Ireland explained. “Of course, the secondary focus is to promote the conservation aspect of the bison species, the grassland ecosystems.”
The Find the Baby Bison! contest challenges participants five to 18 years of age to locate a lost baby bison and help reunite it with its herd. Two-dimensional life-size cut-outs are hidden at one of several locations within the ROM and at the Toronto Zoo, and virtual images of the baby bison graphic are concealed on all Bison Collaborative websites and all hints as to the whereabouts of the hidden bison are provided at the ROM and Toronto Zoo as well as online. Once located, the participant can submit a photo online or paper ballot in person identifying the bison’s hiding spot.
“Any day someone can find the bison,” Ireland said. “It can be online as well, but of course we encourage people to come into the ROM and the Zoo to explore. But online increases accessibility.”
The importance of this rare species should not go unnoticed. “They are literally the reason the grasslands exist today,” Ireland said. “The way they grazed […] actually allowed forests not to encroach on the grassland areas.”
“Another fun fact,” he continued, “is also imagining how much poo 30 million bison can create,” he laughed. This resulted as a dominant fertilizer of those ecosystems.
“Our aim here to make the conservation of nature fun and interactive,” said Ireland.
“Challenging our audiences to come to the Museum or Zoo or visit partner websites with a goal to find the [bison calf] will, we hope, inspire them to learn about and share the importance of protecting one of Canada’s most important ecosystems.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publishing date.