December 6, 2019
Pearl of the Pojoaque
- as seen by -Julie Larsen Maher
Rose-colored ridges surround the sage-covered canyon that the Pueblo of Pojoaque bison call home. One is different from the others with a coat that shines a pearly white in the bright New Mexico sun. My friends that manage the Pojoaque bison tell me her name is Ia. She is a nine-year-old female that is fairly new to their herd. She’s not shy and comes near. Her curiosity defines her like her light-colored fur. She is the pearl of the Pojoaque.
The Pueblo of Pojoaque Bison Program started in 1994 with four bison and under three acres of land. Now the herd has over 5400 acres and nearly 100 head – including a white bison.
“All our bison are special to us. And the white bison is now part of our family. She is a beautiful rejuvenation to our program. We look forward to her being around for years,” says Phil Viarrial, Director of Pojoaque’s bison program.
White bison are rare. The light color is a condition called leucism, a partial loss of pigmentation which causes pale skin, hair, feathers, or scales. Some Native American communities believe that a white bison is the most sacred living thing on earth. The birth of a white bison is a sign of hope and an indication of good times to come according to the American Indian College Fund.
Ia is the right age to have a calf and the Pojoaque team is hopeful that she has bred this season. When spring comes, there could be baby pearl.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The opportunity for me to photograph bison in northern New Mexico came as part of the recent ABS Bison Conference where a diversity of experts met to plan a future for this iconic species.