Our collection of visuals takes you behind-the-scenes to Banff’s bison country. Experience life in the field as we bring you video footage, photo galleries and interactive maps from key moments in the reintroduction journey.

Banff Bison: Free and Thriving

Wild bison return to Banff

Transcript :10 My name is Karsten Heuer and I am the bison reintroduction project manager for Banff National Park. 0:18 My job is to orchestrate all the moving parts of trying to get bison from Elk Island National Park into Banff National Park. 0:28 Parks Canada's primary mandate is to ensure what we call ecological integrity, which means the health of the ecosystem. 0:35 And because something has been missing, North America's largest land mammal, part of our job is to try to bring it back. 0:42 And that’s what this is all about. It's about that effort. 0:47 From about noon today until about hopefully about noon tomorrow, so a 24 hour period 0:52 we are actually going to be doing an operation that has a lot different moving parts. 0:57 The first part is bringing the animals through the Elk Island corral system and chute system 1:03 give them a tranquilizer, and then do some last minute changes to ear tagging. 1:08 And then we will start to load them in groups of three and four through the chute system 1:12 up the loading ramp, into the containers that we've modified 1:16 They're basically seacans or shipping containers with ventilation in them and a few additions to the doors. 1:22 And then, we'll truck them for 400 km. That will then take us to the end of the gravel road, Ya Ha Tinda Ranch. 1:30 And then we will actually bring in a helicopter in tomorrow, a heavy lift helicopter 1:33 that's coming from the coast and that will pluck each individual crate off the flat-bed trucks. 1:39 One by one, over the ridge, about 20 km into the heart of the reintroduction zone. 1:44 Where we have a pasture fenced. 1:47 Where we are going to hold them for the next 16 months, feed them, support them 1:52 allow them to calve safely twice, and then do the release after they have anchored to that landscape. 1:58 And have adopted it as their new home. 2:13 There's been so much research, there's been so much consultation, like literally years. 2:18 We've got everything in place that we could have possibly thought of. 2:22 And really, from here on in, it's going to be up to the animals. 2:34 You know, we are talking about giving a species a second chance. 2:38 The seed that we are planting today, you can't almost imagine what it might lead to in 50 or 100 years.

Banff National Park - bison calf historic first steps

Canada’s Bison: Restoring a Legacy

Transcript 0:11 The sound of galloping bison was once like thunder 0:14 in the distance on the North American plains. 0:17 For thousands of years the bison roamed the ranges 0:20 from Alaska and Canada's Prairie provinces 0:23 to the grasslands of northern Mexico. 0:27 Bison, sometimes known as Buffalo, 0:30 are North America's largest land mammal. 0:33 A bison bull can weigh over 900 kilograms, 0:36 measure close to 4 metres in length, 0:38 jump almost 2 metres high, 0:40 and run over 40 kilometres per hour. 0:44 Canada is home to two types - the plains bison 0:48 and its lesser-known and larger cousin, the wood bison. 0:52 Bison are an iconic species - 0:55 historically, culturally, and ecologically. 0:59 Free-ranging bison were a driving force 1:01 in the continent's grassland ecosystems - 1:03 creating a mosaic of habitats 1:05 and a food source for predators and scavengers. 1:09 For North America's indigenous peoples, 1:11 who had lived with the bison for thousands of years, 1:14 this animal was fundamental to their physical, 1:17 spiritual, and cultural lives. 1:20 Leroy Littlebear, an Elder with the Blood Tribe of Alberta, 1:23 once said that despite the decline in numbers, 1:26 the spirit of the Buffalo never left their lands 1:29 and the transfer of animals from Elk Island 1:31 back to the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana 1:34 was the realization of a dream. 1:37 He said, "It is a good day for the Buffalo; 1:40 it is a good day for us, 1:42 and it is a good day for Blackfoot Territory." 1:46 Parks Canada recognizes that strong relationships 1:49 and reconciliation with Indigenous partners 1:52 are essential to Parks Canada's mandate 1:55 and it is facilitating reconciliation by helping 1:58 to reconnect Indigenous people with the bison. 2:01 Parks Canada works with over 300 indigenous communities 2:04 across the country. 2:06 The reason it's so important is that they have 2:09 thousands of years of stewardship on these lands 2:12 and Parks Canada is only a hundred years old! 2:15 So being able to work with people who have 2:18 that kind of knowledge is extremely important for us. 2:21 The science-based approach is also extremely important. 2:24 So when you look at both of them together, 2:26 you can come to a good way of managing an area. 2:30 In the early 1800s, 2:32 herds of up to 100,000 plains bison were not uncommon 2:37 and a staggering 30 million dominated the land. 2:41 Despite these vast numbers, 2:43 their population came perilously close to extinction, 2:46 numbering less than 1,000 by the end of the century. 2:50 This dramatic decline was the result of many causes 2:53 including market hunting, loss of habitat, 2:56 and unenforced early conservation measures. 3:00 With bison on the brink of extinction, 3:02 the Canadian government recognized the need to restore 3:05 these animals and bought one of the last remaining herds 3:08 from several Indigenous ranchers in Montana. 3:11 During transportation a small herd was left 3:14 at Elk Island National Park, where they thrived. 3:22 Elk Island has a long history as the epicentre 3:25 of world bison conservation, providing seed stock 3:28 for new herds and an emerging bison ranching industry. 3:33 Over 1,800 genetically pure and disease-free Plains bison 3:37 have been relocated across North America, 3:39 including many to other national parks where they flourish today. 3:45 Parks Canada's journey to help restore Plains bison 3:48 has had its challenges along the way 3:50 from which many lessons have been learned. 3:54 Through these types of recovery efforts, 3:56 Parks Canada is viewed as an international leader 3:58 in nature conservation. 4:01 For example, 4:03 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature 4:05 adopted Parks Canada's guidelines 4:07 for ecological restoration as their global standard. 4:11 We employ what we call the "three E's approach" - 4:14 Effective, Efficient and Engaging. 4:17 It's effective in terms of using the best available scientific 4:21 and traditional knowledge in determining overall goals. 4:25 It's efficient to ensure that we maximize the outcomes 4:29 by using resources wisely. 4:32 And perhaps even most importantly, it's engaging. 4:34 We need to engage the local community, our partners - 4:38 such as our First Nations partners, 4:40 in the ecological restoration process. 4:43 Engaging Canadians in authentic national park experiences 4:47 is a cornerstone of Parks Canada's mandate 4:50 and bison are one emblem of that experience. 4:53 Plans are underway to re-introduce plains bison 4:57 in Banff National Park in 2017, 5:00 contributing both to the breadth of Banff's visitor experience 5:03 and the ecological integrity of the park. 5:07 Parks Canada, by developing internationally recognized 5:11 principles and guidelines, as well as best practices 5:15 for species recovery, will certainly be able to contribute 5:19 to the global effort that other countries can adopt 5:23 or adapt in their own programs, in terms of species recovery. 5:27 Parks Canada's efforts are a model for the world - 5:30 providing conservation leadership, collaborating 5:33 and reconciling with Indigenous partners, 5:36 and presenting Canadians with opportunities to engage 5:39 with our natural and cultural treasures. 5:42 While bison conservation work is on-going, 5:45 Canadians can be proud of what we have already achieved. 5:49 This story is an extraordinary example of how National Parks 5:53 have played an important role in bringing back a species 5:56 from the edge of extinction to become an important legacy 6:00 for generations to come.