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Prince Albert National Park of Canada

Biological Information

Characteristics of Plains Bison

Bull plains bison
Bull plains bison.
© Parks Canada / P.Peregoodoff
  • Bison are the largest land mammals in North America; bulls can weigh up to 860 kg
  • The highest point of the hump is directly over the front legs
  • Large thick chaps on the front legs
  • Thick pendulous beard
  • Full neck mane which extends below the chest
  • Sharply demarcated cape line behind the shoulder
  • Thick bonnet of hair between the horns
  • Calves are generally reddish-orange in colour for the first 3 months, after which they become darker

Plains bison are primarily grazers and historically occurred in grassland and meadow ecosystems, or on the forest fringe. Their historic range in Canada covered an area from the Rocky Mountains in the west, down through southern Manitoba in the east, and from mid-Alberta and Saskatchewan south to the border.

Current Status of Plains Bison in Canada

In July 2005, the federal Environment Minister announced that plains bison would not be added to the Species at Risk Act at this time due to the inability to genetically distinguish between wild and domestic plains bison, and the potential economic implications for the Canadian Bison industry. However, plains bison are still classified as “Threatened” by the Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in the Assessment and Status Report of 2004.