A herd of wild bison has been reintroduced to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, marking the first time that bison have roamed this part of Canada since they were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century.
Parks Canada — the Canadian government agency that manages national parks, conservation areas and historical sites — relocated the 16 bison, which primarily include pregnant females, to the remote Panther Valley in Banff National Park, the Calgary Herald reported. Initially, the bison will be in an enclosed pasture and monitored by Parks Canada officials, but by summer 2018, the herd will be free to roam across more than 460 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) in the Red Deer and Cascade river valleys, according to the Calgary Herald.
Banff National Park Superintendent Dave McDonough said the herd's release is part of a celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, when the country was united into one dominion. [Photos: 9,000-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia]
"It's a great event to have a keystone species return to one of our nation’s most iconic places," McDonough said when making the official announcement Monday (Feb. 6), according to news reports. "I'm proud to say that history has come full circle and wild bison are once again in Banff National Park."
Bison used to freely roam the land that is now Banff National Park, and their historic population in North America was about 30 million, the Calgary Herald reported. However, overhunting brought the large herd animals to the brink of extinction. To save the species, the Canadian government purchased one of the last surviving herds in the early 1900s, according to Parks Canada. For almost a century, this herd and its descendants were kept in a protected paddock at the base of Cascade Mountain in Alberta, before being released in 1997 to begin their reintroduction to the wild.
If the herd thrives, and a healthy wild population is established, the Banff plains buffalo population will be just one of four in North America that is roaming in the wild and interacting with its historical environment, said Karsten Heuer, bison project manager for Parks Canada.
"That will be a first in over 140 years in Banff National Park, and that's really why we're doing this, is to make them wild again," Heuer told the Calgary Herald. "They've been absent from this landscape for too long, and so I think today is the hooves-on-the-ground beginning of trying to bring that back."
Original article on Live Science.