TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Bison have proven to be popular gifts for the holidays.
Members of The Nature Conservancy kept busy in recent weeks handling requests from those interested in taking part in the agency's annual Adopt-A-Bison program.
Through the program, a $40 donation helps support the bison herd that roams the nearly 40,000-acre Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County.
This year, 1,600 adoptions had taken place by Dec. 20, said Grant Gerondale, communications coordinator for the conservancy's Oklahoma chapter. Last year, about 900 bison were adopted between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.
The increase means the program could raise nearly double the roughly $35,000 it generated in 2000, Gerondale said.
``We've tried to get as many of these certificates out before Christmas as possible,'' he said.
John Fisher, a conservancy volunteer who oversees the program, has been busy seven days a week, he said.
``He has had stacks on his desks,'' Gerondale said. ``I think he's about spent.''
The increase in adoptions stemmed in part from public awareness, support from the conservancy's national office in Washington and a number of newspapers' inclusion of bison adoption in holiday shopping stories, Gerondale said.
Funds from the program are used to buy additional bison for the herd, provide health checks and support general herd management at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.
Since their introduction to the preserve north of Pawhuska in 1993, the bison herd has grown from 300 animals to more than 1,600. Eventually the herd will top 3,000.
Each donor receives a personalized adoption certificate with a color photo of a representative bison from the herd. Donors also receive ``Prairie Thunder,'' the Oklahoma chapter's quarterly illustrated newsletter that describes the beauty and action at the prairie preserve.
Through the years, Adopt-A-Bison certificates also have become a year-end purchase for people looking for a tax deduction, Gerondale said. So while many businesses are closed during the week after Christmas, a small crew still will be taking calls and processing certificates for The Nature Conservancy, he said.