New Zealand

American Bison 

Years ago while visiting NZ, we heard the rumor that Teddy Roosevelt donated eight bison to NZ in the early 1900’s. I have searched off and on over the years and can find no proof of that. After reading the American Bison Society reports through the years, that move would have been uncommon. America was still trying to save the bison and to make a gift of eight head would have been huge. Normally gifts to other countries were one to maybe three head. Here, the ABS was still actively raising money,  ranchers were still donating to our own government for conservation herds.  In 1903 the Zoological dept. mentions an American bison display (see below) Maybe that’s where the confusion stems from.

In speaking with the Auckland Zoo, they provided me a letter the first one dated May 1911. They want to look into getting American Bison in NZ. So, this would be the first on record for live animals to be imported. 

1911 Request consideration for American Bison



FOR 1903.

To the Director of the National Museum.

Sir,  (extract)

Among the more important exhibits placed on view during the year is a large case of domestic pigeons, arranged to illustrate variation under domestication. Examples are shown of the principal breeds, which have all been derived by careful artificial selection from the wild Rock Dove (Columba livia.) Two large cases, each measuring 11 feet by 6 feet 6 inches, have been constructed, to contain some of the rarer species of the large ungulates, such as the Zebras, Kiang, American Bison, Brindled Gnu, Takin, and others. Another, measuring 6 feet 6 inches by 7 feet 6 inches, has been completed, and now contains the largest of the Bears, including the fine white Polar Bear obtained during last year.. The addition of this case has relieved the smaller Bear case, which has been fitted up to accommodate the others and some of the other smaller carnivora. The old ostrich case, which, owing to its faulty construction, has caused much anxiety for the safety of the birds has been replaced by a new one of the pattern generally adopted for the Museum. A special case, to contain a collection of over 200 specimens of hummingbirds, nearly all of which have been in the Museum collection for many years, is being fitted up, and will be ready for exhibition at an early date.


The Winnipeg Tribune
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada March 29, 1924
Canada to New Zealand

Courtesy of Auckland Zoo
Courtesy of Auckland Zoo


Three bison have been presented by the Canadian government to the collection of wild animals being assembled by Auckland in New Zealand.

( It was two cows and one bull, which the bull died in route, arrived Feb 26 1924- Before the ship left the Pacific Ocean, one cow gave birth and the calf died)

Feb. 4th Hauraki transport ship from Canadian National Park, on its way and expected to arrive next week. The bull was particularly fierce and became angry when someone would approach his pen,  four days after the ship left San Fransico, he laid down and never to rise again,  dying a few days later.  (To be accommodated on high-level land to the left of the main entrance to the zoo. A large area has been set aside for them across from the llamas.)


Petaluma Daily Morning Courier
California, June 13, 1924

Mayor Rolph of San Francisco promised the lord mayor of Auckland, New Zealand,  a buffalo from the Golden Gate park paddock to take the place of a New Zealand bison that died. The buffalo was all ready to ship when it was discovered that the foot and mouth disease quarantine would debar voyage.


May 18 1926 it’s reported that two bison (one male and one female) two years of age arrived a few days ago from Canada National Park.

Elk Island shipped April 1st, 1926 to the Auckland Zoo, and the 2nd on Nov 1, 1926, to the Wellington Zoo. Both zoos each received 1 bull and 1 cow. (Wes Olsen )

Parks Canada: Elk Island National Park (EINP) sent most of this information and I added a few details of what they didn’t have. 

  • 2 Plains females Feb 26, 1924, Auckland
  • 2 plains bison to Auckland New Zealand in 1926 (May 14th arrived one male and one female, two years of age)
  • 2 plains bison shipped Nov. 1st to Wellington, New Zealand in 1926  (One bull and one cow)
  • 2 Bison bulls to arrive by the Waiotapu from the Canadian National Park ( they already have two bison females, Dec 1929)
  • 2 plains bison to Wellington Zoo, New Zealand, in 1938 (Arrived Jan 1939)
  • 1 plains bison to Wellington Zoo in 1948 (May 18th 1948-Took a month by ship, in a wooden crate where he could stand or sit, but not turn around, then was held up on the ship for quarantine of “foot and mouth” disease, maybe another month onboard)
  • 2 plains bison sent to “New Zealand” (no additional details) in 1949 
    (Auckland Zoo, According to our records Auckland zoo imported a gifted male and female B. bison from the Canadian government in Oct 1949)



Edmonton Journal
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Oct 18, 1929
Buffalo will be Shipped to Africa and Australia

There are also segregated from the main ramp in the park two male buffaloes for shipment via the port of Vancouver to New Zealand. These bison are expected to be embarked on November 1.


December 24 1929 Two bison bulls arrived for Auckland Zoological Park from Canada National Park. Which now makes four head as they already have two females.




Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand
Breeders Directory

New Zealand has no native livestock, but a wide range of species and breeds have been imported – most until recent decades were of British origin. Farming is New Zealand’s primary industry, and farm products are exported world-wide.
Our rare livestock comprises principally older breeds that are now out of favour commercially, plus unique re-domesticated breeds that evolved in New Zealand from animals which became feral in the early farming period.

Less than a hundred bison can be found in New Zealand – original breeding stock being imported from farm parks and zoos. It is hoped to farm them for their meat which is leaner than beef.


Snowdon Farm, North Canterbury January2006
(no longer listed as bison owners 2021)American Bison bull at Snowdon Farm

Bison Bull
photo taken by by Jean Donaldson





The Deer Park, Queenstown  (no longer showing to have bison, 2021-They are making plans to bring them back.)

Join Deer Park Safari on a magical adventure into the very heart of alpine New Zealand. Be rewarded with fabulous panoramas over the entire Queenstown basin with elevated vistas over the lakes and surrounding mountains. Visit the country’s most spectacular Lord of the Rings film locations. Stop to hand-feed and photograph red deer, bison, llama and many other exotic animal species. Trek around the summit tarn (lake) and take an exclusive trip into Walt Disney’s “The Rescue” film-set. Stop for morning / afternoon tea whilst viewing footage of the movies and learning the local Maori legend and the history of the gold rush.



Baby bison on display at Hamilton Zoo

Published: 7:08AM Saturday November 23, 2013 Source: ONE NewsBison Calf at Hamilton Zoo

Hamilton Zoo’s new baby bison goes on display this weekend for the first time.
The male calf was born on October 22 and now clocks in at about 60kg – more
than twice his birth rate.

He was born to two of the four adult North American bison in the zoo’s six-strong

Curator Sam Kudeweh says Hamilton Zoo is the only NZ zoo to hold and display
bison and the healthy young calf is expected to continue their successful
breeding program.

2021 At Hamilton Zoo: There are eight American Plains Bison at Hamilton Zoo, six females, two males.
Aira (5 Dec 2011)
Karen (13 Nov 2017)
Jaimee (28 Mar 2018)
Rayleen (16 Dec 2018)
Daisy (1 Feb 2019)
Pauline (10 Jan 2020)
Kaiya (15 Feb 2009)
Doug (25 Nov 2020)



Brightwater , New Zealand Jan 2014

Larry Wood Ranch

Bison have only been introduced to NZ 3 times. Originally Teddy Roosevelt gave NZ a gift of 8 or so, after that zoos brought them in twice. I am probably the only one who has adequate yards for them. I also have a few Angus and Red Deer and raise South African Boerboels. (beautiful giant guard dogs)

I don’t sell them for meat as there is no market for it here. I sell whole animals as small herds and males to game parks.

Larry Woods Bison on the hillLarry Wood's BullLarry Woods Misty Bison


Monty Bison BullMonty getting a drinkMonty loves his water



Canterbury Farm inland from Ashburton – 2021NZ Bison Limited

Glen Whyte, Managing Director / farmer at NZ Bison LimitedÉcole secondaire du Verbe Divin- Whyte Farming

Owning about eighty head of American Bison. He heard of another place selling their herd so he made the decision to purchase them after his experience in Saskatchewan, Canada on bison. He is hoping to produce them to enter the meat market.


Dec 2021- Species holding report for: Bison bison / American Bison
Association: Zoo Aquarium Association (ARAZPA Inc) (ZAA)
Institution   Male             Female        Birth (last 12 month)
Region: Australia (Oceania) 6 Institutions, Male: 21 , Female: 29
ALTINA / Altina Wildlife Park 5 males -5
HALLS GAP / Halls Gap Zoo 2 males -2
HAMILTON / Hamilton Zoo 2 males 6 females – 8
MONARTO / Monarto Zoo 8 males 9 females – 17
ORANA / Orana Wildlife Park 2 males 2 females – 4
WERRIBEE / Werribee Open Range Zoo 2 males  12 females – 14


Bison for sale:


RARE SALE: Horizon Mental Health Centre clinical director Bob Blake is being forced to sellBob Blake NZ three bison used to help at-risk youth because of a spate of attacks.

A spate of vandalism has forced a Marlborough man to put three of his beloved North American bison up for sale on Trade Me.

The auction has a starting price of $17,000.

The bison are part of a herd of nine established four years ago, and roam the paddocks of Horizon Mental Health Centre clinical director Bob Blake’s 37-hectare Onamalutu property. The farm doubles as a retreat for at-risk young people aged 13 to 19, and the bison are among animals that help with their rehabilitation.

The property has been plagued by a string of incidents since a highland cattle calf was shot in September 2006.

Mr Blake said he had since erected about five kilometres of reinforced fencing, at a cost of about $125,000, to keep the animals in and spotlighters out, but the fence had been vandalised intermittently by intruders.

He also suspects that poisoning was behind the deaths of 10 bison and a range of other animals at the property during 2008.

Mr Blake fears he may be in for a fresh bout of attacks after the gate to a bison paddock was interfered with last week. The gate, which had been clipped shut but not locked, was removed from its hinges, and nearly struck one of the property’s employees when it was opened on Thursday morning.

Mr Blake said sophisticated tools and at least two people would have been required to unhinge the gate and leave it the way it was.

Mr Blake said he was selling some of his younger stock to cover the cost of ongoing repairs.

He has 10 staff who tend to the property, and also mend and monitor damage, and pays a total of about $250 an hour in wages.

“I shouldn’t have [the bison] on Trade Me, but I don’t have a choice. The cost to protect them outweighs selling them,” he said.

“Trying to rebuild a herd and repair things has brought us to our knees.”

Mr Blake said he was contemplating moving the animals to another community for their safety.

He had chosen to sell three of his nine bison because they were herd animals and relied on one another’s company.

While the starting price for the animals on Trade Me might seem steep, it was well below the $10,000 each animal was worth, he said.

Read More