Wild bison are coming home to Canada’s Banff National Park for the first time in roughly 140 years. Although bison were common sights in the Canadian landscape with a population that numbered in the millions in the early 1800s, these huge and herbivorous mammals nearly disappeared by the end of the 19th century as a result of hunting. Now 16 bison are back at Banff as part of a carefully planned conservation effort to re-establish the species within the area’s ecosystem. With any luck, the herd’s numbers will be growing soon: many of the transferred bisons are pregnant.
After initially racing to explore their new digs (which may, in fact, have simply been an effort to get away from the shipping containers in which they traveled from Elk Island National Park), the bison appeared to quickly settle in, traipsing over the snowy ground and grazing and munching on plants and grasses that have been untouched by their kind for almost a century and a half. After a 16-month monitoring period, the herd will be released into a larger area with even more terrain to explore and the opportunity to live amongst other wild species.
The hope is that this pilot effort will be successfully replicated on a national and international level to help these majestic creatures re-establish themselves on native lands. Archaeological records have lead conservationists to believe that bisons roamed the land that has now been defined as Banff National Park for over 10,000 years, and it doesn’t look the bisons are wasting any time in getting back to their roots.
Karstan Heuer, one of the project’s advisors remarked that the initial transition went extremely well: “”It’s a huge relief to actually have hooves on the ground.”
Images via Parks Canada