Sorry, CBS and other major news networks, bison calf isn’t 1-in-10-million

A white bison gets some shut-eye at Bear River State Park in Evanston. Despite misinformation that recently went viral, the fact that the calf is white is not statistically rare. (HERALD PHOTO/Hayden Godfrey)

EVANSTON — On May 16, Bear River State Park’s Wyoming Hope welcomed an unusual white bison calf. The following day, some misleading information in a Cowboy State Daily article apparently incited an international wave of misinformation.

Cowboy State Daily writer John Thompson clarified in the article that the park’s new arrival is not a 1-in-10-million albino, but rather the product of Charolais cattle DNA, which is only somewhat rare in bison populations.

However, a photograph above the Cowboy State Daily article was captioned, “A white bison named Wyoming Hope gave birth Tuesday to a 1-in-10-million white bison calf at Bear Lake State Park,” misidentifying both the animal’s rarity and location.

In an email to the Herald, Bear River State Park Superintendent Tyfani Sager wrote, “No, it is not albino. Albino bison are the one in 10M.” She added that the two adult white bison at the park are white, like the calf, due to Charolais DNA. She cited a 2022 “Scientific Reports” article, which states that the vast majority of bison populations contain domestic cattle DNA.

Several other news outlets — including CBS, Daily Mail, Business Insider, Yahoo News, The Daily Beast and KUTV — some citing the Cowboy State Daily article, also ran misleading headlines and subheads containing the erroneous statistic.

While most articles clarified the difference between the Bear River State Park bison and the albinos sacred to Native American tribes, many of these kept the 1-in-10-million number in headlines or subheads, seemingly missing the discrepancy.

Some articles, including one by Daily Mail reporter Kamal Sultan, made no clarification that the bison was not albino. The headline reads, “Adorable and ultra rare 1-in-10-million white bison is born in Wyoming … considered the most sacred living thing on Earth among some Native American tribes.”

Kenneth Niemeyer of Business Insider began his article by using the 1-in-10-million statistic and telling the Lakota Sioux story of a woman who ended a famine by becoming a white bison. He, too, failed to mention the difference between the legendary white bison and the part-Charolais Evanston resident.

In an earlier email, Sager wrote that the odds of this particular calf being born white were 50/50. Despite the inauthenticity of some claims, she said the birth is still an interesting and unexpected occurrence.

“Although they are not albino, white bison are still not of large populations and a rare sight,” Sager said.

She added that the animal is healthy and has been seen running around with other calves in what park personnel call the “zoomies.”

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