WCS Canada


Fast Facts 

Scientific Name: Bison bison

  • American bison can gallop at speeds of up to 56 kilometres per hour and are good swimmers.
  • One of the largest populations of wild free-ranging bison is found in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta. 
  • By its first birthday, a bison may weigh more than 200 kilograms. 
The American bison is North America’s largest mammal. Just two centuries ago, 30-60 million bison roamed North America, from Mexico to northern Canada. Large herds migrated and grazed across the open grasslands and dispersed the seeds from grasses and sedges, while many bird species adapted to or co-evolved with these types of vegetation. In the late 19th century, sport-hunting and mass slaughters brought the species to the brink of extinction.

Plains Bison were extirpated from the wild in Canada by 1888. In 1905, the American Bison Society (ABS) was established by WCS for the permanent preservation and increase of the American bison to save the species from extinction. It established a nucleus breeding herd at the Bronx Zoo, worked with the U.S. government to set aside bison reserves, and coordinated the first reintroduction of bison to the wild. ABS officially ceased operating in 1935.  

Today in Canada, there are about 2,200 plains bison and about 11,000 wood bison. Both were assessed as threatened in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC); only wood bison is listed under Canada's Species at Risk Act. The greatest threats remain insufficient population size to sustain long-term genetic integrity, loss of habitat, disease, and wild bison cross-breeding with domestic bison that have some cattle genes. The widespread disappearance of the grasslands – one of Canada’s most endangered habitats – has also limited the prospects for the recovery of Canada’s wild plains bison population.


American Bison Society

Originally founded in 1905 by pioneering conservationists and sportsmen, including Theodore Roosevelt and William Hornaday, the American Bison Society helped save the bison from extinction by reintroducing captive bison to reserves in Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Montana. One hundred years later, in 2005, the ABS was re-launched by the WCS to secure the ecological future of bison in North America.

Ecological Recovery of Bison and Grassland Birds

Understandably, there are few land managers experienced with bison in a conservation setting. As birds are great indicators of habitat quality, we are using bird species with specific habitat requirements as conservation targets to manage bison grazing at restoration sites and to monitor restoration progress. This work is taking place in the northern Great Plains of Canada and U.S. as well as the southern plains in the U.S. and northern Mexico.

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WCS Canada
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