Parks Canada kills wanderlust bull bison after it ventures too far from Banff

As with most experiments, there are usually unexpected consequences.

For Banff National Park, which introduced wild bison to a place they haven’t lived in 140 years, it has meant the death of one bull after it wandered too far away.

Canada’s oldest national park says it was forced to kill the animal on Aug. 16 after it and another bison bull moved beyond the protected park space 11 days prior.

“Parks Canada made the difficult decision to euthanize one of the Bison bulls who had continued to move eastward toward private grazing lands and was posing a risk to public safety and to the safety of livestock,” Christie Thomson, a Parks Canada spokeswoman said in a statement Friday.

Staff made “tremendous” effort to get the bison bull back into the park.

Bison take a break in Banff National Park.

But public safety had to come first, they concluded.

“The decision to euthanize the bull was taken only after every other possible solution was tried or examined by highly trained, professional, and dedicated Parks Canada staff who are committed to conservation and the protection of species like Bison,” Thomson added.

Sixteen bison were transferred from Elk Island National Park north of Edmonton to Banff in February, 2017. They were taken to an area that would require a helicopter ride or a two-day hike for humans to actually see them.

As they got used to their new home, they had babies. Lots and lots of babies.

This summer, 33 animals were fully released from the confines of their large fenced area to roam free.

“Bison calves are born with bright reddish fur – giving them the nickname of “little reds”. After a few months, they start to look more like the chocolate brown of their parents,” Parks Canada explained.

The bison, including newborn calves, began exploring their new habitat.

“Instead of following the valley bottom like we expected, the herd travelled and stayed high on the mountainsides, grazing and bedding in the uppermost fingers of vegetation that edge into the rocky slopes,” Parks Canada said.

While most stayed within a few kilometres of their original release site, those two bulls did wander onto provincial lands in Alberta where they enjoy no protection.

The surviving far-flung bull will continue to be monitored and shooed back toward Banff.

“We have been carefully tracking the herd and are ready to take action if they venture too far,” Parks Canada said.

“Fortunately his movements are not posing a risk to public safety or to the safety of livestock,” Thomson added. “…The remaining 32 Bison have stayed within the heart of the reintroduction zone in Banff National Park’s backcountry where they have continued to successfully adapt to their new home.”

In the late 1800s, plains bison were nearly wiped from the continent due to over-hunting and habitat destruction.

Conservation efforts, such as this, have worked to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

“At the end of the pilot project in 2022, we will evaluate the success of the project and determine the future of bison restoration in Banff,” Parks Canada said.

For now, they are being tracked by GPS collars to see where they go and what they do.

All photos Banff National Park

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