Canada reintroduces bison to its oldest national park

Parks Canada has reintroduced a herd of plains bison to the country's oldest national park in Banff, Alberta, officials said on Monday, February 6th, more than 130 years after the iconic North American animal last grazed the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies.

The conservation team moved 16 bison from a protected herd in central Alberta into an enclosed pasture in Banff National Park in the west of the province last week.

The herd will stay under observation in the remote Panther Valley until summer 2018, when the animals will be released into the full 460-square-mile reintroduction zone in the park's eastern valleys.

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Canada reintroduces bison to Banff National Park
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Canada reintroduces bison to Banff National Park

Parks Canada staff welcome the arrival of bison to Banff National Parks Panther Valley in Alberta, Canada in this January 31, 2017 handout photo.

(Dan Rafla/Parks Canada/Handout)

Trucks loaded with custom shipping containers full of bison leave Elk Island National Park for the 400 km trip to the staging area at the Ya Ha Tinda ranch just outside the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada in this January 31, 2017 handout photo.

(Johane Janelle/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTER)

Wild bison destined for Banff National Park are prepared for loading and travel at Elk Island National Parks bison handling facility in Alberta, Canada in this January 31, 2017 handout photo.

(Johane Janelle/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

A wild bison, selected from Elk Island National Parks healthy conservation herd to be translocated to the remote wilderness of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, is pictured in this January 31, 2017 handout photo.

(Johane Janelle/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

A custom shipping container carrying the first wild bison to Banff National Park in over a century arrives in the remote Panther Valley in Alberta, Canada in this February 1, 2017 handout photo.

(Dan Rafla/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

Bison relax in the bison handling facility at Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada in this January 9, 2017 handout photo. Wild bison were selected from Elk Island National Parks healthy conservation herd to start a new journey in Banff National Park

(Cameron Johnson/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

Parks Canada staff celebrate as the final crate of bison destined for Banff National Park departs the staging area at the government-owned Ya Ha Tinda Ranch in Alberta, Canada in this February 1, 2017 handout photo.

(Johane Janelle/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

Wild bison take their first steps in their new home in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada in this February 1, 2017 handout photo.

(Dan Rafla/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

Parks Canada staff celebrate as the final crate of bison destined for Banff National Park departs the staging area at the government-owned Ya Ha Tinda Ranch in Alberta, Canada in this February 1, 2017 handout photo. Johane Janelle/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Parks Canada resource conservation staff, Saundi Norris and Dillon Watt, watch as bison return to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada in this February 1, 2017 handout photo.

(Dan Rafla/Parks Canada/Handout via REUTERS)

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Parks Canada said bison were once dominant grazers and that bringing them back would restore their missing role in Banff's ecosystem.

"This would be one of only four plains bison herds in North America that would be fully interacting with their predators and shaping the ecosystem as they did over a hundred years ago," said Kasper Heuer, the bison reintroduction project manager.

Those predators will include wolves and bears native to the park.

Ten pregnant female bison and six young bulls were disease tested and radio collared before being herded into five shipping containers and driven 400 km (250 miles) cross Alberta by truck. The conservation team taped rubber hoses to their horns to prevent the animals injuring each other while in transit.

Since the Panther Valley is not accessible by road, officials attached the shipping containers by long line to a helicopter and flew them in one at a time for the last 16 miles.

Vast bison herds of up to 30 million animals once migrated freely across North America. The animal was nearly hunted to extinction, and rangers estimate bison have not grazed in Banff National Park since before it was established in 1885.

Bison have great spiritual meaning for North America's aboriginal groups, having once provided an important source of food, clothing and shelter. The reintroduction also coincides with the 150th anniversary of Canada's 1867 confederation into a federal union.


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