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Wild Bison Released Into Banff National Park

Wild bison destined for Banff National Park are prepared for loading and travel at Elk Island National Park’s bison handling facility.

Johane Janelle Copyright Parks Canada

Wild bison are roaming the Banff National Park again for the first time in more than century.

According to Parks Canada, vast herds of plains bison roamed the Great Plains and some wandered into the eastern slopes of the Continental Divide for thousands of years. Although wild, free-roaming bison have been absent from the landscape for over a century, bison were historically dominant grazers that helped shape the montane and sub-alpine ecosystems of what is now Banff National Park.

At the end of January, Parks Canada translocated 16 bison (10 pregnant two-year-olds and six young bulls) from Elk Island National Park to Banff National Park.

Project Manager Karsten Heuer said that although the plains bison will be exposed to predators in the future, he believes they can still survive and coexist.

“This will be one of four places in North America where plains bison are exposed to their natural predators. It is an important long-term project for shaping the species, and in the long run we hope that they will integrate with the natural eco-system including predators

Wild bison, like this one, were selected from Elk Island National Park’s healthy conservation herd to start a new journey in the remote wilderness of Banff National Park.

Photos Johane Janelle Copyright Parks Canada

In the Yukon, where they reintroduced wood bison, it took 20 years before the wolves started queuing into bison as a food source. Last week we observed wolf tracks coming up to the meadow where the bison are and I think it is foreign to these animals because it’s been so long since bison were on that landscape,” said Heuer.

The bison are currently in a soft release pasture for next 16 months, before they will be released in 2018 to roam freely in the reintroduction zone within Banff National Park.

“So far they are doing really well, and they look like they belong. The moving process has gone smoothly after years of research, preparations, and consultations with various groups.

Our Parks Canada staff continues to monitor the health of the herd and ensure the new arrivals have access to food and water. I am amazed at how quickly they revert to their natural instinct. Already I have watched them chasing off coyotes; I don’t doubt for a moment that they won’t display protective behaviour if they have an encounter with wolves,” he said.

To date Parks Canada has committed $6.4 million to the plains bison reintroduction project in Banff National Park.

“With a species translocation there is a necessary adjustment period as well as learning how to adjust, and Parks Canada are global leaders in teaching people how to coexist with wild animals. Considering the 4 million plus visitors we have in Banff National Park each year, and the 60 plus grizzly bears we have, I think our track records is pretty darn good. Now we look forward to bring bison under the same umbrella as well,” added Heuer.

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