Lonely Planet Writer

After more than a century, bison are back in Canada's Banff National Park

Once driven to near extinction as a result of over-hunting, plains bison have returned to Banff National Park.

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park Image by Lonely Planet
A plains bison herd have come back from near extinction to have a presence across every state in the USA.
A plains bison herd have come back from near extinction to have a presence across every state in the USA. Image by Parks Canada Agency

The nascent herd of just 16 animals was loaded onto shipping containers in Elk Island National Park, 35 km east of Edmonton, Alberta, and shipped to a remote pasture on the eastern side of Banff National Park. It’s the first time in over 100 years that bison have been in the park. On Monday, park officials say the move went well and the animals are adapting to their new home. The bison will be kept under close supervision until the summer of 2018. Then the herd will be released into a wider area of the park, where they can search for food and interact with other animals in the park.

Bison
The bison being released back into the park. Image by Parks Canada Agency

During the reintroduction, the animals will be closely monitored. Park staff will keep an eye on animal health and movements, survival rates and how well they withstand predation from wolves and bears. “It’s a great event to have a keystone species return to one of our nation’s most iconic places,” Dave McDonough, Banff National Park superintendent, said on Monday. “It’s a perfect way to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.”

The bison run free in their new habitat.
The bison run free in their new habitat. Image by Parks Canada Agency

Over a century ago, bison grazed in the area that is now Banff National Park. At their peak, there were 30 million bison in the plains, but the population was decimated by over-hunting. In the early 1900s, the Canadian government purchased one of the last herds and kept them in a protected paddock in Alberta for nearly a century. First Nations groups widely praised the relocation, citing cultural connections to the animals and the landscapes. Conservationists, too, lauded the achievement, noting the animals’ importance in the area ecosystem, and the Canadian government for effectively bringing the animals back from the brink of extinction.

Parks Canada Agency
A team stands by as the container with the bison is lowered down. Image by Parks Canada Agency

Back-country travellers can visit the reintroduction zone via a two-day hike, horseback or ski trip, but permits must be reserved in advance. A public homecoming ceremony is planned for 3 March at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

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