Prince Albert National Park of Canada
Marie-Krystel.© M.K. Gauthier
Marie-Krystel Gauthier, QC, Research assistant
If someone had told me five years ago that I would one day work in a remote corner of Saskatchewan, conducting scientific research on plains bison, I swear I would have laughed! However, this was the adventure that awaited me in the summer of 2006 at Prince Albert National Park. For 12 weeks I was the research assistant for a PhD student, and it was without a doubt the most rewarding experience of my life! We worked in some of the least-traveled areas of the park where you find the large herds of bison. These are imposing and majestic beasts, yet they remain fearful of human presence (most of the time, anyhow, although we did occasionally meet an old bull who was afraid of nothing). We observed the bison every day, rain or shine, which I’ll admit was a challenge some days. But I’ll always remember the beautiful sunny summer days, the multitude of smells, and the ease with which we observed wild animals in their natural habitat. Of course, I would not have fared nearly as well without the invaluable help and advice of Park Warden Lloyd O’Brodovich. I learned a lot in three months, but what really made an impression was the extraordinary people that I met, for whom the protection of wildlife and the environment is a passion.
This part of PANP is a must-see; the detour is worth the trip. Believe me! It’s up to you to discover this refuge, which holds many surprises for the patient and adventurous nature-lover.
Eva Paul, Park employee
As we cycled silently into Walrod Meadow, we caught our first glimpse of the bison in the summer sun. It was a mixed herd of bulls, cows, and calves – about 25 of them. They were grazing peacefully on sedges growing on the far side of the lush green meadow. I knew my two companions had never seen wild bison before, and that I was sharing a very special “first” with them. I remembered my first encounter with the plains bison in PANP, on horseback, and the exhilaration I felt being near these powerful animals. And maybe a bit of apprehension as my horse and the bison eyed each other with curiosity…
Canadian toad.© E. Paul / Parks Canada
My companions were fellow Parks Canada employees here for their first summer. We were conducting amphibian surveys; visiting wetlands all over the park. And although I’ve been here a bit longer than them, it’s still a privilege to spend time out on the west side and to enjoy the totally different terrain and species that make it so unique to the park.
We stopped, and pulled out the cameras. We skirted around the meadow, sticking to the trees, to get a little closer. “Not too close!” I cautioned them. “But you can safely get within about 100 m, if they’ll let you.” They didn’t. These are definitely wild bison and they’re quite wary of humans. We watched as the herd slowly faded into the bush on the far side.
Over the next couple of days, we worked in the presence of these extraordinary animals. Some days we’d see them, some days we wouldn’t. One day as we climbed the hill to our bikes from the Sturgeon River where we’d been surveying, we heard thunder.
We stayed hidden in the protection of the trees as fifty or more bison thundered past, not 10 meters from where we stood. I don’t know what spooked them or where they were headed, but I felt awed to be there at that particular moment in time, witnessing a spectacle as old as the hills.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be in the presence of wild plains bison. There are only three free-ranging populations in existence in Canada. And this is the only one that’s clearly within plains bison historic range. Nowhere else on the Canadian prairies can you find free-roaming plains bison interacting with wolves, other species, and man. This IS where the bison used to roam, and they roam freely once more.