Elk Island is the only completely fenced national park in Canada. While this fence is effective in protecting park bison from outside diseases and eliminating negative bison encounters with neighbors outside the park, this fence greatly impacts the natural migration patterns of large hoofed animals, or ungulates. The fence also reduces the number of large predators residing within the park. These disruptions to natural ecological processes mean that ungulate populations can grow to exceed the carrying capacity of the park. Elk Island actively manages ungulate populations, including bison to ensure that populations do not become too big or too small.

Bison populations in Elk Island are primarily reduced through live transfers to other conservation sites, Indigenous communities or to private herds through auction. In the wintertime, either wood bison or plains bison are herded into a series of fences and corrals so they can be sorted. Understanding bison behaviour is important to safely move bison through the facility. During the sorting process bison are tested for disease to ensure they are healthy and remain disease free. This enables Elk Island to send surplus bison out of the park and support conservation projects all over the world.

Discover first-hand what it takes to protect this iconic species on a behind the scenes interpretive tour of Elk Island’s handling facilities.