Bison Return To Banff National Park After A Century-Long Absence

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After going missing from one of their native habitats for more than a century, wild bison are back in Canada’s Banff National Park.

There were once more than 30 million bison roaming the plains of what is now Albert’s Banff National Park. However, overhunting put them on the brink of extinction in that part of the world.

Fortunately, the Canadian government stepped in to save one of the last remaining herds in the early 1900s. Now, more than a century later, Parks Canada is putting bison back in Banff National Park, where they belong.

Parks Canada has successfully moved 16 bison, including two pregnant females, from Elk Island National Park outside of Edmonton into Banff. They will spend the next 16 months in an enclosed pasture so they can be monitored before being released into a larger area in the summer of 2018.

“By returning plains bison to Banff National Park, Parks Canada is taking an important step toward restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to the park’s ecosystems while providing new opportunities for Canadians and visitors to connect with the story of this iconic species,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Federal Minister of environment and climate change.

Parks Canada spent several years researching the best way to reintroduce bison back to Banff, in additional to preparing to transfer 16 of the nearly two-ton animals from one park to another.

Conservationists groups are excited to have bison back in the park and thrilled that the transfer went through without a hitch.

“This is a great day for Banff National Park. It’s a great day for Canada and frankly, it’s one of the great days for wildlife conservation in the history of North America,” said Harvey Locke of the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation in Banff.

Obviously, it’s been a long time since buffalo have roamed this specific area, but Locke believes they will take to their new habitat quite naturally.

“I don’t think the challenges for this herd are very large, because we know from the archeological record that bison were in this park for over 10,000 years,” says Locke. “I think it’s going to go very, very well, because it’s a native species in its native habitat.”

The 16 bison being released into the park is just the first step in what is a five-year plan to determine whether herds of bison can still be viable inside Banff National Park, with the hope of once again making them a permanent part of Canada’s oldest national park.