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Elk Island National Park

Plains Bison Fact Sheet 

 Plains Bison bull 
© Parks Canada
  • Elk Island Park was created in 1906, becoming Canada’s first wildlife sanctuary. The Fort Saskatchewan Rifle Association, a group of local, conservation-minded hunters, recognized the need to provide refuge for elk. In 1913, Canada’s Dominion Parks Service established Elk Island as Canada’s 6th and only entirely -fenced national park. 
  • Around the turn of the century, fewer than 200 plains bison were left in the world. A few private citizens in Canada and the United States made efforts to collect small herds in an attempt to save the plains bison from extinction. 
  • In 1907, 410 plains bison were shipped to Alberta from Montana. The animals were sent - approximately 200 in May, and the remainder in September – by train in 17 freight cars from Ravalli, Montana, to the Village of Lamont, Alberta. The bison were then unloaded from the train and herded from Lamont to their new home at Elk Island National Park. 
  • At the time, the Pablo-Allard herd was purchased from Michel Pablo, $245 for each bison. 
  • The “Preservation of Plains Bison” at Elk Island has been commemorated as a Canadian National Historic Event. 
  • Elk Island National Park manages the priority national recovery herds for plains and wood bison. Elk Island’s herds are disease-free, making them suitable for bison conservation projects around the world. 
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is an integral partner to Parks Canada, essential in certifying the herd as disease-free for conservation transfers. 
  • Following the January 2012 removal of 70 plains bison destined for Montana, the Elk Island National Park herd will number approximately 475. 
  • The first transfer of 93 plains bison from Elk Island to American Prairie Reserve occurred in 2010. 
  • In 2011, an agreement was signed to transfer 70 plains bison from Elk Island to American Prairie Reserve. This transfer will occur January 25, 2012, weather permitting. American Prairie Foundation is responsible for the costs and logistics for transporting the bison; veterinarian and vaccine costs; feed and care. 
  • The 2012 transfer will increase American Prairie Reserve’s herd to approximately 210 animals. 
  • While there is some risk in moving large animals over long distances, the transfer of bison for conservation initiatives is a risk worth taking. Safety of the plains bison is top priority throughout all stages of the transfer. Staff of both the Government of Canada and the American Prairie Foundation have specialized expertise in disease testing, and a treatment protocol and health certificate are created for each transfer. Elk Island National Park staff have unique expertise and a long history in managing, caring for and handling bison. They are also assisted by a Parks Canada veterinarian. 
  • Animal welfare specialist, lecturer, and author Temple Grandin, consulted on the design of Elk Island National Park’s state-of-the-art bison handling facilities. The American Prairie Foundation works with scientists from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to ensure the herd is healthy and well-managed at the Reserve. 
  • Elk Island National Park is located 45 kilometres east of Edmonton, Alberta. Visitors can view plains bison north of the Yellowhead Highway from the Elk Island parkway.