Days before the bison was anointed the new national mammal of the United States, a bison calf made its entrance into the world at the Minnesota Zoo.

The calf, born April 30, is the 43rd bison born at the zoo since it opened in 1978. The herd of nine is expecting more calves this year.

Millions of bison — the largest land animal on the continent — once roamed the Great Plains until they were hunted to near extinction during the late 19th century. The last wild bison observed in Minnesota was in Norman County in 1880.

About 500,000 bison now live in the U.S., but most of those have been crossbred with cattle and are semi-domesticated. About 30,000 wild bison roam the country, with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park.

The Minnesota Zoo and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources entered into an agreement in 2012 to work together to preserve the American bison. Last year, 11 genetically-rare bison were released into Minneopa State Park near Mankato as part of an effort to expand the Minnesota conservation herd from 90 to 500 animals at several locations.

At the zoo, the bison can be found on the Northern Trail.

The bison joined the eagle as a national symbol when President Obama on Monday signed into law the National Bison Legacy Act. Lawmakers spearheading the effort say the once nearly extinct icon deserves the elevated stature because of its economic and cultural significance in the nation's history.

The AP contributed to this report

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788