Meet Our American Bison

How did the bison get their names?

At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute we work to save species and to inspire and engage the next generation of conservationists. Esteemed Washington, D.C. colleges Howard University and Gallaudet University have bison as their school mascot. The National Zoo invited the students of each university to participate in selecting a name for the unnamed bison—an opportunity to connect to an iconic American animal for our nation, the conservation movement as well as their alma mater.


Howard University students chose to name one bison “Zora” in honor of alumnus Zora Neal Hurston, acclaimed author, poet and civil rights activist. Students at Gallaudet University selected the name “Wilma” in honor of alumnus Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the first deaf woman elected to serve in the Republic of South Africa’s parliament.

The selected names will be announced on August 27 by the student body presidents of each university at the Zoo.

“It’s significant for Howard University to help name the incoming Bison at the Smithsonian National Zoo not simply because the Bison is the mascot of Howard, but its significant because of what Bison stand for: power, pride, freedom. Bison also stand for resilience, as they have fought back from over-hunting. Howard has continually fought back against injustices of all kinds and this new Bison will be Howard’s resilience incarnate.” – Leighton Watson, President, Howard University Student Association

“The Gallaudet Student Body Government and Graduate Student Association would like to thank the National Zoo for including us in the process for naming their newest additions to the Zoo. It’s a real honor to be able to recognize the university in this way. I know students, faculty, staff, and the many alumni who live in the DC area, will be proud to know that every time they visit the Zoo there will be a little bit of Gallaudet Bison Pride there to greet them.”  – Andrew Morrill, President, Gallaudet University Student Body Government.

Where did the bison come from?

The American bison on exhibit at the National Zoo came from the American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana. Founded in 2001, American Prairie Reserve aims to create and manage a prairie-based wildlife reserve that, when combined with public lands already devoted to wildlife, will protect a unique natural habitat, provide lasting economic benefits and improve public access to and enjoyment of the prairie landscape. The reserve spans more than 300,000 acres of public and private land that is open to modern-day explorers for camping and recreation. The landscape is one of the most intact prairies left in North America and is home to hundreds of species, including elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, prairie dogs and a growing bison herd.

Close neighbors of the American Prairie Reserve are the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Indian communities.


The American bison are on exhibit during normal Zoo operating hours. Learn more about getting to the National Zoo and planning your visit. Can’t make it to Washington, D.C.? Check out our interactive American Bison exhibit!