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updated: 1/7/2010 9:26 AM

Bison at Lords Park Zoo dies of pneumonia

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  • Dakota relaxes inside the bison pen at Lords Park Zoo in Elgin last summer. He died over the Christmas holiday weekend of complications stemming from pneumonia.

      Dakota relaxes inside the bison pen at Lords Park Zoo in Elgin last summer. He died over the Christmas holiday weekend of complications stemming from pneumonia.
    Courtesy Martin Pinnau

 
 

An Elgin bison that once held court at Lords Park Zoo now roams the wide open plains of heaven.

Dakota, an 18-year-old male bull, died over the Christmas holiday weekend of complications stemming from pneumonia, said Dr. Brian Gerloff, the head doctor at Seneca Bovine Services in Marengo, which treated him.

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A bison's life expectancy ranges between eight and 10 years, he said.

Dakota's advanced age, coupled with plenty of rain and snow this fall, led to his upper respiratory infection, Gerloff said.

Dakota was also battling hypothyroidism, a disease that prevented him from growing a full coat to keep warm and left him "a little more lethargic than normal," Gerloff said.

Dakota was not contagious and the other two bison he lived with are still in good health, said Elgin spokeswoman Sue Olafson.

On Dec. 10, Dakota's caretakers at the city-run, outdoor zoo noticed he was ill and contacted Seneca Bovine Services, which treated him the same day, Olafson said.

The next day, Dakota began a series of antibiotics administered by a dart and had one more dosage three days before Christmas.

His last day on earth was Dec. 27. The city posted notice of Dakota's death on its Web site Saturday morning. Olafson said city leaders had wanted to wait until after the holidays to notify residents.

That Dakota managed to live so long is a testament to his drama-free lifestyle - all of it spent at the zoo, doctors said. Every year, Native Americans from the Midwest SOARRING Foundation made Dakota and his female companions Cahoya, 23, and Pokey, 19, the centerpiece of their bison-blessing ritual.

"Certainly, he lived a very a stress-free life," Gerloff said.

There was only one time the animals dealt with stress - in 2006 when a car went careening into the bison pen. Nobody was injured.

Leaders have not yet decided whether they'll replace Dakota. Last year, the city proposed closing the zoo, which also features deer and elk, to cut down on costs, but officials haven't yet reached a decision on that issue, Olafson said.

The Friends of Lords Park Zoo, a group that sprang up to save the zoo, plans to hold a small ceremony and bison blessing with the Midwest SOARRING Foundation sometime in January to pay their final respects to Dakota, said Laurie Faith Gibson-Aiello, the group's chairwoman.

"We definitely believe his spirit's there," she said.

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