Rare white buffalo sacred to Lakota not seen in Yellowstone since birth

A rare white buffalo calf in Yellowstone national park has not been seen since its birth on 4 June, according to park officials.

In a statement released on Friday, the National Park Service (NPS) confirmed that a white buffalo calf was born in Lamar Valley earlier this month, adding that the park’s buffalo management team had received numerous reports of the calf on 4 June from park visitors, professional wildlife watchers, commercial guides and researchers.

However, park staff have since not been able to locate the calf, with the NPS saying: “To our knowledge, there have been no confirmed sightings by park visitors since June 4.”

The calf is leucistic rather than albino and thus contains black eyes and hooves with some pigmentation.

According to the park, the birth of the calf was a rare natural phenomenon that only occurred once prior to the near extinction of bison in the late 19th century. Describing the event, the park said the birth in the wild is a “landmark event in the ecocultural recovery of bison” by the NPS as a white calf had never been born within Yellowstone national park.

The park added that the calf’s birth may reflect the presence of a natural genetic legacy that was preserved in Yellowstone’s buffaloes, which has revealed itself following a successful recovery of the wild buffalo population of 3,000 to 6,000 animals.

In the wild, the chances of a wild buffalo calf being born are 1 in 1 million births, if not less. According to the park, about one in five buffalo calves die each spring shortly after birth due to natural hazards. However, park officials did not disclose in their statement whether they believe the calf has died.

Earlier this month, several Indigenous nations held a spiritual ceremony near Yellowstone national park in which they honored the birth of the calf.

Those in attendance included representatives from the Colville tribes in Washington, Lakota and Sioux in North and South Dakota, Northern Arapaho in Wyoming and Shoshone-Bannock in Idaho, the Associated Press reports.

At the ceremony was a painting of a white calf on a hide with the words “Wakan Gli”, or “Return Sacred” in Lakota.

Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples in South Dakota, watches a tarp fall, revealing the name of the white buffalo calf during a naming ceremony in West Yellowstone, Montana, on 26 June 2024. Photograph: Sam Wilson/AP

According to Lakota legend, around 2,000 years ago, when food was scarce, the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared and gave a bowl pipe and a sacred bundle to people and taught them how to pray. She then promised to return again for the sacred bundle in the forms of a black buffalo, a yellow buffalo, a red buffalo and eventually as a white buffalo calf.

Chief Looking Horse, the 19th keeper of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe, said that the holy woman told people: “The next time I stand upon the earth as a white buffalo calf that nothing will be good no more,” the New York Times reports.

The birth of the calf marks a prophecy that “because Mother Earth is sick and has a fever … she’s going to speak to these white animals for peace and harmony”, he added.


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