In the 1800s, big game hunters drove bison nearly to extinction in North America, and in places like Canada’s Banff region, which once supported 30 million bison, the animals were entirely wiped out. In an incredible comeback story, however, a small herd of 16 plains bison, including 10 pregnant females, were reintroduced to the park this year. The animals were airlifted into a secluded valley in the park, then set hoof on the ground their ancestors trod for millennia.
Now, the babies are arriving, the first new generation of bison to be born in Banff in 140 years. Striking a symbolic note, the first one was born on Earth Day, April 22, and if all goes well, the herd will number 26 this summer. Banff’s resource conservation manager Bill Hunt said the females are “doing a great job” and nursing well in the enclosed paddock area in which the herd is being temporarily held.
“The bison moms know what they’re doing,” he said. “Our staff are in the woods carefully hiding from the sidelines to see if everything’s going well.”
Hunt says that mother bison bond closely with the geographic area in which they give birth and raise their young. The reintroduction team hopes that when the animals are released from the paddock in 2018, after delivering two rounds of babies, they will stick close to the valley and stay in the park. There, visitors can admire them and their grazing habits will help maintain a healthy natural ecosystem.
The bison, which arrived in February 2017 from a herd in central Alberta’s Elk Island National Park, will eventually have access to a 460-square-mile zone in the western Canadian province.
The past is past, and with North America increasingly paved, farmed, or developed, it may be hard to see what role a huge, ancient creature of the prairie can play in the modern world. However, Parks Canada says their absence in the Banff ecosystem has set the natural