Courtesy John M. Steiner/Forum News Service
White Cloud nurses a calf she birthed in April 2013. White Cloud, the iconic albino bison, died at Shirek Buffalo Ranch on Monday, November 14, 2016.

North Dakota’s Sacred Albino Buffalo Walks On


Born on the Shirek Buffalo Ranch near Michigan, North Dakota on July 10, 1996, White Cloud was an extremely rare female albino bison. She went to live with the herd at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1997 and was visited by some 3 million people during her stay there. In May 2016, she returned to the ranch where she was born.

“To me, White Cloud was more than a tourist attraction. She drew many, many people to the community, but more than that, she brought the community together with White Cloud Days, parades, and special Native American events. She will be missed by the Museum, our city, and by all the travelers that could look to the North and view her as they drove along the I-94 interstate pasture,” Don Williams, President of the National Buffalo Museum’s board, said in a release about her passing.

White Cloud walked on Monday, November 14, 2016, but during her 20-year life she gave birth to 11 calves including Dakota Miracle, a rare white bull. White bison are considered sacred to Indigenous Peoples.

“It was expected it would happen sometime,” Ilana Xinos, director of the National Buffalo Museum, said Monday. “It was not expected today.”

Average life expectancy for bison is 20 to 25 years, according to the National Bison Association. But because of her albinism, the Museum was never sure of White Cloud’s life expectancy. “We are aware of her health. Summers are hard on her. As an albino, she can’t regulate her body temperature as well in the heat. Shirek Buffalo can care for her during the summer in ways we can’t in Jamestown,” Williams said in a release in May when she was moved back to the ranch.

Ken Shirek, an owner of Shirek Buffalo Ranch, told Twin Cities Pioneer Press that she was fed corn and choice hay over the summer rather than being put on a pasture because grazing could have caused her stress.

“She was old,” Shirek told Twin Cities. “We tried to do as much as we could for her in her old age.”

A formal memorial service will not be held for White Cloud, but the museum does encourage people to share their memories, stories and images on social media using #WhiteCloud.

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