Wood Buffalo National Park is home to around 3000 wood bison. This is the largest free-roaming, self-regulating wood bison herd left in the world. The wood bison co-exist with their main predator, the wolf, in a vast boreal wilderness where the natural predator-prey relationship between bison and wolves has remained unbroken over time.

Why Monitor Wood Bison?

Wood bison, a species at risk (PDF 1.82 M), are culturally important to the Cree, Dene, and Métis of the region. As of 2018, wood bison are classified as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). The wood bison population in Wood Buffalo National Park is the most genetically diverse in Canada.

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The natural predator-prey relationship between wood bison and wolves has remained unbroken over time. This photo was taken during an aerial population estimate survey.
Photo : Parks Canada / John D McKinnon

Methodology

Two types of surveys are used for ecological monitoring of wood bison in the park.

Aerial population estimate surveys are conducted every five years to determine trends in the size of this population over time. The surveys are conducted in March when there is still snow on the ground so that tracks can be seen. Resource conservation staff, along with local Indigenous community members, fly in a small plane over a pre-planned series of transects, documenting the number of bison seen and mapping their locations.


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Herd classification count in the Peace-Athabasca Delta
Photo : Parks Canada

Classification counts provide an indication of herd health. The surveys are conducted in the early summer after most of the calving has taken place. Large herds with a mix of adults and young are located by air, and then resource conservation staff are dropped off at strategic locations where they conceal themselves in the vegetation. The bison are then gently herded from the air to travel past the field team on the ground, and the numbers of calves, yearlings, cows and bulls are evaluated.  Reproductive rates and recruitment can be influenced by nutritional status, winter severity and predation. 

For More Information:

Rhona Kindopp
A/ Resource Conservation Manager
Wood Buffalo National Park
rhona.kindopp@canada.ca
867-872-7932