16 baby bison found in Banff as reintroduced herd continues growth spurt

16 new baby bison have been spotted in Banff

The reintroduced herd of bison continue to thrive in their Banff home as more babies were spotted in recent days.

Last week, park officers spotted 13, then Monday morning spotted three more.

Officers are willing to bet there are even more babies they have not seen yet.

“Yes it’s pretty exciting, the most recent count of new bison calves is a total of 16 for this year," said Parks Canada resource manager Dan Rafla. “The population is now at 66 animals from the original 16 just a few short years ago.”

Over the last two years, 32 new calves have been born: 16 so far this year, and 16 last year.

Those numbers are good signs for park officers like Rafla.

“When they’re born as bison calves they’re really bright red which is kind of neat and quite adorable, and they really stand out in the landscape,” said Rafla. “A lot of folks might not know that they’re red, and as time goes on they lose that colour and are more the standard brown, dark brown, shaggy, impressive adult bison that they become.”

Park officers are pleased with the condition of the herd. “When staff are out observing these animals and looking at their body condition, they are looking quite healthy and well," said Rafla.

“It's neat (that) people are excited about having bison on the landscape again,” said Rafla. “You have to keep in mind that bison have, with the exception of a century and a half, been on this landscape for millennia”

EXTINCT BEFORE 1885

Bison went extinct from Banff National Park before 1885, when the park was first founded. Almost 140 years later, the decision was made to reintroduce the animals, allowing their grazing habits to positively shape the ecosystem around them.

In 2017, the park started with bison from Elk Island National Park, near Edmonton. For the first year, they lived in a pasture near Panther Valley while they familiarized themselves with their new home.

The bison were reintroduced to the park in July of 2018 with an initial heard population of 31 adults and the herd expanded while in the Panther Valley pasture.

The herd has since expanded to 66 known bison within the 1200km reintroduction zone located on the east side of the park. The bison are currently in the “free-roaming” phase of their reintroduction process, which means they have more room, but cannot travel outside the reintroduction zone. However, they are now exposed to other wildlife.

At the moment, it does not seem like these bison are under much threat from bears or wolves, which is a good sign for the newborn baby bison.

“There’s been no evidence, no clear evidence anyway, that wolves or grizzly bears predating on bison,” Rafla said. “They’re incredibly big, resilient animals and it’s going to take a bit of time to learn how to strategize taking down a bison by wolves. And even then, generally speaking, wolves never have a huge impact on the bison population because they’re such robust animals.”

There are no signs that the herd has gotten near people, either. Sometimes the bison will get close to the edge of their zone, meaning officers have to calmly ask the animals to turn around. Officers say this has only happened a handful of times so far.

The herding method most used encourages the bison to stay calm and move away under their own impulse. This is done by maintaining some distance from the animals while slowly getting close enough to have the bison decide to move away. Park officers will match the speed of the bison to maintain the low-stress environment for the animal, and to ensure they themselves stay at a safe distance.