White Buffalo Sacred to Native Americans Missing Since Birth in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Park White Buffalo

Yellowstone National Park officials announced on Friday that a white buffalo, considered sacred by Native Americans, has not been seen since its birth on June 4.

The birth of the white buffalo, which is believed to signify better times, was the first recorded in Yellowstone history and marks a significant event for the recovery of buffalo, according to park officials who confirmed the birth for the first time.

It is an extremely rare occurrence: A white buffalo, also known as bison, is born in the wild once in every 1 million births, or even less frequently, the park stated.

It is unknown whether the calf — named Wakan Gli, which translates to “Return Sacred” in Lakota — is still alive.

The park’s statement noted that each spring, about one in five calves die shortly after birth due to natural hazards, but officials declined to directly respond to inquiries about whether they believed the calf has died.

They confirmed the birth of the white buffalo after receiving photos and reports from multiple park visitors, professional wildlife watchers, commercial guides, and researchers. However, since June 4, park staff have been unable to locate the calf, and officials are not aware of any other confirmed sightings in the park, one of the last sanctuaries for free-roaming American bison.

Rangers who routinely work in the more accessible areas of the park, as well as its backcountry, have not seen the animal, said park spokesperson Morgan Warthin.

Native American leaders earlier this week held a ceremony to honor the animal and give it its name. Lakota members caution that the prophecy associated with the birth of the white buffalo also serves as a reminder that more must be done to protect the earth and its animals.

Suspicion about the calf’s fate has increased as weeks have passed without another sighting since its birth in the Lamar Valley, a prime spot for wildlife viewing in Yellowstone. Young buffalo can fall prey to predators, river currents, illness, and other hazards.

Mike Mease, a co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a conservation group that collaborates with tribes to protect and honor wild buffalo and hosted this week’s ceremony, believes the calf is alive somewhere in the park, away from the roads and walkways most visitors frequent. He mentioned that a grizzly bear observed by Yellowstone visitors earlier this month with five cubs, an unusually large brood, has also not been seen since.

However, Mease stressed that the most important aspect of the white buffalo is the fulfillment of a prophecy, which serves as both a warning and a blessing.

“Whether it’s dead or alive, the message has been relayed from the heavens and times are different now. We have to make changes for the future,” he stated.