Bison herd at Nachusa Grasslands.
Nachusa Grasslands Bison herd © Charles Larry

Stories in Illinois

Nachusa Grasslands Bison FAQs

Do you have questions about Nachusa's bison herd? We've got answers!

Why did you bring bison back to Nachusa?
Re-establishing bison was the natural next step in the restoration process at Nachusa Grasslands. Their grazing behavior and the effects they have on the prairie with their hooves and horns naturally promotes biodiversity and help a wide range of wild flowers, plants, insects and amphibians to flourish.

How many are there?
Bison are social animals, and in herd sizes smaller than 30, the animals tend to isolate and become aggressive. These bison will be allowed to graze on 1,500 acres of the prairie. With that amount of space, Nachusa can support a herd size of 70 to 110 animals.

Where did they come from?

The bison came from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and other Conservancy herds founded with bison from Wind Cave. Unlike most other American bison, animals from the Wind Cave herd have no history of cross-breeding with cattle. Bison from Wind Cave are the species’ most genetically pure and diverse specimens.

How are Nachusa’s bison different from other herds?

While there are other bison herds present in Illinois, they typically are on small farms and raised for meat production similar to cattle. The Nachusa herd is the first conservation herd in the state: their primary job is to help maintain the health of the prairie at Nachusa.

Has the Conservancy done this before?

The Conservancy has more than 20 years of experience reintroducing bison throughout the Great Plains of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Nebraska.

How is the bison herd cared for?

The bison breed, birth, and care for themselves 364 days a year. The scientists at Nachusa have them in the corral for one day a year, where they receive minimal veterinary care. The goal is to allow the bison to be as wild and unhandled as possible so that they do not become domesticated. Bison will also be exchanged between Conservancy preserves to improve the genetic health of the species. Eventually, when the herd grows beyond the carrying capacity of the land available at Nachusa, some of the bison will be sold for breeding stock and other purposes.

Will I be able to see the bison?

Stop by our Visitor Center and visit the overlook that provides a view of the prairie and the herd (depending on where they are grazing). You can also see the bison by bringing your binoculars to view them from one of the public roads. Please note: the bison roam across 1,500 acres of rolling landscape and may not be visible at times. No hiking is permitted inside the fenced bison unit. The other units of the preserve are open dawn to dusk for hiking.

Can I still come to Nachusa?

Visitors are welcome and encouraged to visit Nachusa! The preserve is open from dawn until dusk. Our Visitor Center will help you enjoy your trip and learn more about the preserve.  Please note: Hiking is not permitted in the bison unit.