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Elk Island National Park

Government of Canada to Send Wood Bison to Russian Conservation Project

Park Canada contributes to survival of wood bison, a Species at Risk Park Canada contributes to survival of wood bison, a Species at Risk
© John Warden

Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service) and Parks Canada Agency have developed an agreement with the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in Russia, to transfer approximately 30 wood bison from Elk Island National Park to the Republic of Sakha. Proposed timing for the transfer from Elk Island to Sakha is March 14-18, 2011. Read the Press Release

This will be the second transfer to Russia. In 2006, 30 wood bison were transferred to Lenskie Stolby Nature Park in the Republic of Sakha. This transfer was successful and the herd has reproduced and increased. Establishing a herd of wood bison in the Republic of Sakha fulfills a national aspiration to rebuild an ecosystem analogous to the one that existed in the area before the extinction of steppe bison. The renewal of a population of large herbivores will augment the natural capital and biodiversity of the region.

In Canada, the federal government is responsible for the recovery of listed species, through the Species at Risk Act. Currently, there are an estimated 11,000 wood bison in Canada. Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) are listed as a threatened species: “a species likely to become endangered if the limiting factors are not reversed” in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The Canadian Wildlife Service will develop a strategy including recommendations to create the best possible future for wood bison. Parks Canada supports this work by maintaining the wood bison herd in Elk Island National Park, and will participate in the implementation of the Recovery Strategy.

The wood bison herd has been in Elk Island National Park (EINP) since 1965. Serving as a recovery herd, the wood bison offer a source of disease-free and genetically pure animals for reintroduction projects nationally and internationally. The wood bison living in Elk Island National Park are not native to the area. Parks Canada maintains the wood bison herd in Elk Island National Park to serve as a nursery herd to establish and augment wood bison populations in Canada. This includes managing the population and providing surplus animals to conservation initiatives such as the transfer to the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), on the basis of contributing to the global security of wood bison. In 2001, this project was included in the draft National Wood Bison Recovery Plan as an opportunity to secure survival of the subspecies in a geographically separate population. Environment Canada, through its branch the Canadian Wildlife Service, is the lead on the Wood Bison Recovery Strategy and the lead on the transfer. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarians conduct the disease testing and ensure animal health. Parks Canada hosts and manages the herd of wood bison at Elk Island National Park.

The Government of Canada and the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) are taking all possible measures to ensure a safe transfer for the animals. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency in cooperation with the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) has developed a disease testing and treatment protocol for the animals and a Veterinary Health Certificate that both countries have agreed to for this export-import of wood bison.

Parks Canada has a proven track record of effective recovery for species at risk in national parks. Contributing to the survival of species at risk has been an important role historically for Elk Island National Park for more than a century.

Elk Island has played a key role in the conservation of both plains bison and wood bison since 1907. Some of the world’s last plains bison were brought to the park and the species began its recovery from the brink of extinction. Elk Island National Park has made lasting contributions to wildlife conservation through its expertise and management (e.g. wood bison, plains bison, elk, trumpeter swans) for over a century. In Canada, relocations have been made in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Yukon Territory. Internationally, the Park has supported the relocation of elk to Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina; in 2006, 30 wood bison were sent to Russia, and in 2008, 54 were transferred to Alaska. During the park’s history, Elk Island has successfully provided a total of 855 wood bison, 1014 plains bison, and 4633 elk to conservation initiatives benefiting the species.

For more information on the draft National Wood Bison Recovery Plan or the Species at Risk Act, please visit the Species at Risk Registry.