Saving the Tallgrass Prairie One Bison at a Time

Confronting the spread of a deadly disease among the bison at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve may save herds across the country.

September 01, 2015

Maintaining tallgrass prairie can have its challenges, but the threat of Mycoplasma bovis, a deadly bacteria-like organism, to the bison herd at the Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve was by far the greatest challenge yet.

Bison grazing is a primary reason the tallgrass prairie exists. Understanding the importance of these beastie grazers to the tallgrass prairie ecosystem is how we are able to restore and maintain the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie on earth. Thus, the stakes were high in 2014 when our staff at the preserve were faced with finding solutions to a new major challenge: the deadly disease M. bovis was sweeping through our bison herd.

This was an exhausting journey for our team. One that required working nights and weekends to prevent the spread of the disease through the rest of the herd. Staff and partners accepted this challenge head on. Looking back, there were many dark days. Our staff was battling a disease that many knew little about and it was already taking a toll on the bison. In early efforts to manage the problem, the team implemented several actions to help save the herd, including euthanizing obviously sick animals. No matter how thick-skinned you may be, this is no easy task.

But there’s so much more to this challenge. We hope you will take time to read the full story "A Shot in the Dark" as featured in the Aug/Sept issue of The Nature Conservancy's magazine. Then, go behind the scenes to learn how preserve staff implemented an emergency roundup in efforts of saving the tallgrass prairie one bison at a time.


Bob Hamilton, Director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

For 20 years, we’ve managed to maintain the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve bison herd with no major health issues. In 2013, we faced our first serious disease, which catapulted our team into emergency mode to save these champions of the tallgrass prairie.

Thus far, we have not lost a single bison to the disease since making the difficult decision to inoculate them during calving season in 2014. Our collaborative efforts with many organizations and individuals have been critical to the herd’s success. This will continue as we watch the bison closely keeping in mind the disease could re-manifest itself at anytime.

I just can’t thank our partners enough. This team of VERY smart experts helped us feel our way through an uncertain and tough situation. I’m sure the bison thank them too!

And thank you for your continued support of our efforts to restore the tallgrass prairie. We absolutely could not do it without you. Please, come visit the preserve anytime. The bison would love to see you!



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The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

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