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For generations, Bay Area families have grown with us and our special history has become a part of San Francisco lore.
The Zoo staff cares for the bison located at the Bison Paddock in Golden Gate Park. Park Superintendent John McClaren brought the bison to Golden Gate Park in 1891. The species was close to extinction in the United States at the time as a result of massive slaughter by hunters for trophies and hides. Over the years, more than 500 calves have been born in Golden Gate Park. Captive breeding efforts have saved the species from extinction. Today there are healthy herds in a number of National Parks as well as large populations maintained by private breeders.
The first bison to arrive at the Park was a bull named "Ben Harrison." According to an article in the San Francisco Examiner, Ben Harrison hailed from the Kansas ranch of C.J. Jones, an early conservationist who began his own breeding program in 1884. Ben Harrison was purchased for $350 — a great deal of money at that time — and shipped to San Francisco. He was the first of a herd of bison that was intended to help preserve the species. Within two years, he had sired a calf by the first female, "Sarah Bernhardt," and from that point on the herd thrived.
One hundred years ago, the bison were named after public figures: Grover Cleveland, Bill McKinley and Bill Bunker were among the original animals. The bison currently residing in the Park were originally named after the royal family according to Shakespeare. In 1993, the bison relinquished their Shakespearean names in favor of Native American names at a special bison reclaiming and renaming ceremony sponsored by the Watchbison Committee, the Native American Advisory Committee, and the San Francisco Zoological Society.