Grasslands National Park of Canada
Yes, we have bison in GNP, but where are they now?
Grasslands National Park imported a small herd of plains bison from Elk Island National Park in December 2005. The herd, composed of 60 calves (30 male and 30 female) and 11 yearling females, was held captive in a holding pen for the remainder of the winter. Then on 24 May 2006, the herd was released. For the first time in almost 150 years, plains bison were once again an integral component of this prairie ecosystem.
That first winter they spent the majority of their time grazing the area to the north of 70 Mile Butte. Over the course of the next year they began to explore their new home and have since made it into almost every corner of the park.
The first 2 calves were produced in the summer of 2006, followed by 8 in 2007, and 35 in 2008. As of mid-September 2010, 41 more calves had arrived, bring the total to about 190 head.
They have settled very comfortably into life in the north-eastern corner of the park. This is an area rich with abundant forage, several good quality water sources, and security for calving and breeding. Everything they require is located here, and as a result, they have not spent much of the summers in the river valley. Once winter’s snow arrives however, they will descend from the high plateaus to winter along the valley bottoms of the Frenchman and its tributaries.
The Park’s Bison Management Plan specifies that the herd will be allowed to grow until they reach a population of about 350 bison. At that time a decision will be made as to whether the parks resources can sustain this level of use, or indeed whether it can support a higher population. Surplus bison will be removed from the population and supplied to other recovery efforts.
Bison and You!
Plains Bison © Parks Canada / Johane Janelle
Visitors to Grasslands National Park will now see Plains Bison thunder across this vast, wind-swept prairie, that was once their native homelands. Bison are majestic and powerful - the very elements that attract us to view these wild animals. While bison are not usually aggressive, they are unpredictable and can become dangerous. Please use caution and observe the following safety tips while viewing this great animal in the park!
In Your Car:
- If you encounter bison along the roadway, drive slowly and they will eventually move. Do not honk, become impatient or proceed too quickly. Bison attacks on vehicles are rare, but can happen.
- Bison may spook if you get out of your vehicle. Therefore, remain inside or stay very close.
A herd of bison and horseback rider © Parks Canada / Carol Masecar
On Foot or Horseback:
- Never startle bison. Always let them know you are there.
- Never try to chase or scare bison away. It is best to just cautiously walk away.
- Always try to stay a minimum of 100 meters (approximately the size of a football field) from the bison.
Please take extra caution as bison may be more aggressive:
- During the rutting season (mid July-mid August) as bulls can become more aggressive during this time.
- After bison cows have calved. Moms may be a little over-protective during this time.
Aggressive Bison© Wes Olson
- When cycling near bison, as cyclists often startle unknowing herds.
- When hiking with pets. Dogs may provoke a bison attack and should be kept on a leash.
- On hot spring days when bison have heavy winter coats.
- If they display any of the following signs:
- Shaking the head
- Short charges or running toward you
- Loud snorting
- Raising the tail.
Bison are the largest indigenous land mammal in North America. Bison bulls can often weigh one tonne and reach a shoulder height of two metres. Bison are agile animals that can quickly accelerate to speeds of 48 – 56 km per hour and cover great distances in a short period of time (National Park Service, 2002). Although bison may not detect stationary objects at close range, they can perceive motion at great distances. Bison also have excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell.