This week marks the 5th anniversary of the return of bison to Banff National Park. On a chilly February 1st in 2017, 16 bison were airlifted into the park’s backcountry, and released into a holding corral in the Panther River Valley.
Since then, it’s been a pretty amazing buffalo journey. Parks Canada’s Bison Blog has done a great job of chronicling the last five years. Here’s my favourite highlights, with all photos courtesy of Parks Canada:
Spring, 2017: ten bison calves are born, the first wild bison to be born in what is now Banff Park since at least the 1870s.
Late July, 2018: the bison herd – now 31 animals strong – is released from their paddock into the wilds of the park. There are now free roaming bison in Banff. Hurray!
Late summer, 2018: once out of their paddock, the bison herd goes to the last place anyone expected: the high alpine! They spend most of August and September behaving like real Rocky Mountain lovers, hanging out along treeline ridges. These bison are clearly full of surprises already.
November, 2019: automated wildlife cameras show bison and wolves interacting, with a young bull following some wolves! It’s hard to see the time stamp in these photos, but the wolves and the bison are just a few minutes apart. Eventually, wolves and grizzly bears will learn to hunt bison, and once some of the bison are old enough to die a natural death, many animals will be able to scavenge from their carcasses. On a smaller scale, the fur that bison moult every spring will line the nests of songbirds, and at least 6 species of dung beetles will thrive in bison droppings! It’s an absolute dream scenario for an ecologist.
Summer, 2021: with the addition of more new calves in the last three years, the herd is now made up of 66 bison. Here’s about half the current crew in a high meadow.
The bison reintroduction project has been a great success. One of the few challenges has been the instinct of young male bison to go on long road trips. In the last five years, two bulls had to be euthanized after travelling beyond the Banff’s boundaries, but, thankfully, the rest of the herd likes to stay put. The result is a thriving population. I can’t wait to see what the next five years will bring!