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The Historic Bison

A modern success story in Banff National Park

In a remote valley, just north of the bustling town of Banff, a bison takes another step forward. It’s hoof sinks into the wind-blown snow, rocking its massive weight forward. Sweeping its head back and forth, this largest land mammal in North America shovels away enough snow to nibble on some sweet frozen grass.

Bison must eat all the time, even during the cold winter when grass and sedges don’t bring in enough calories or nourishment. Swinging her muzzle, covered in wintery white, just the act of eating helps keep her digestive track going.

"Bison must eat all the time"

The herd follows, for she is the matriarch, leading the way for a safe feed. It’s new land she navigates, tentatively exploring her surroundings, but as the heavy herd pounds the ground, by deep summer they will uncover more history buried beneath their hooves.

For it wasn’t too long ago when their ancestors traversed what we now call Banff National Park, following the Bow River valley after spring melt.

No one really knows how many Bison roamed the great plains and mountain rivers before westerners but estimates often reach over fifty million. Can you imagine? Millions of an animal weighing between one thousand and two thousand pounds, standing taller than our refrigerators and longer than our dining room tables.

Unfortunately, in less than a hundred years of squandered slaughter, bison populations were eradicated, and by the late 1800’s, only a thousand bison were left. In Canada, Bison are an endangered species. This is a disastrous part of North America’s history, which makes it a massive success that Banff National Park can bring positivity into this story.

In early 2017, sixteen bison were brought from Elk Island National Park in Northern Alberta down to Banff’s remote Panther valley. Panther valley, only twenty miles away from the busy town of Banff as the golden eagle flies, is still a remote area of the park.

It turned out to be the perfect place to reintroduce the Bison to the land. Of the sixteen bison, ten of them were pregnant females and the first calf was born in April on Earth Day.

For the matriarch of her herd, she knows that once the mothers have calved in a place, it becomes to feel like home. Now, a few years since reintroduction, Banff’s Bison have doubled in numbers!

Remarkably, Songbirds which we’ve not seen for a long time are coming back to build nests out of this rich warm fur.



In some migratory songbirds this thick fur increases their survivorship by thirty percent!


The matriarch, even with a bird perched on her fur, barely pauses her slow purposeful movements as she donates another gift to the land.

Our new Banff herd is now creating over ½ a ton of poop in one day! **** ****

They will each deposit fifty pounds of these nutritious nuggets between sun-up and sun-down. Well, nutritious if your one of the 300 species of bugs now living large. Over 1000 insects can feed on a patty.


Way To go Banff National Park!

By Reintroducing Bison to the park, Banff has created space for this keystone species to help our park thrive. I know I look forward to learning a lot more in the upcoming seasons.


  • How do they feel about the reintroduction?

  • How is the Bison impact similar and different than the elk?

  • Will I get to see a Bison and how do I act if I do?

Check this out

Banff National Park has put together some outstanding videos of the bison in our park. Well worth watching! And we will see you in our Canadian Rockies soon.

Bison in Banff National Park: There is so much more to uncover



The Future

* Big Nature Guides are Awesome! But we learn from other incredible guides AND guides sometimes embellish. I know! Crazy Right?! We try to get it correct, but really?? 1000 insects on a pile of poo??? - Actually, that seems like the truth to me. Want to find out? Call us


Written by: Katrina Rosen
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