For the first time since Abraham Lincoln was a young man, there are wild bison in Illinois, and ecologists were thrilled to welcome a new calf this week. The baby bison was born at the Nachusa Grasslands prairie restoration preserve just 95 miles west of Chicago, reports the Chicago Tribune. The calf was born to one of around 30 bison moved to the preserve from Iowa last fall, surprising workers who hadn't expected any of the bison in the only wild buffalo herd east of the Mississippi to give birth until May at the earliest. The last recorded killing of a wild buffalo east of the river was in 1830 in Indiana, according to the USDA.
"From a historical standpoint, this hasn't happened in Illinois in about 200 years," an ecologist for the project tells the Tribune, adding that the calf "looked great." The introduction of the bison—whose grazing allows many native plant and insect species to flourish—is one of the final steps of the project to restore some 3,500 acres to the native prairie that used to cover more than half the state, Al Jazeera reports. Last week, officials announced that they plan to bring another herd of bison to a prairie restoration project on the site of an old military ammunition plant just 45 miles south of Chicago, reports the AP. (In Alaska, wood bison have been reintroduced to the state for the first time in more than a century.)