PANTHER VALLEY – After only a week as a truly wild animal, one bison bull in Banff National Park's reintroduction herd has already bolted.
Parks Canada confirmed Thursday morning (Aug. 9), that one bison bull has left the 1,200 square kilometre reintroduction zone located inside Banff National Park in the Panther Valley.
An update to the bison reintroduction project was provided to the Outlook on Thursday, detailing that the bull has left the core reintroduction area "and is currently grazing in a remote valley in the Province of Alberta lands northeast of the national park."
"Parks Canada continues to monitor this bull," stated the update, "along with the other 35 bison that are settling into their new surroundings in the Banff backcountry."
The majority of the herd are within six kilometres of the initial release area, according to the project update, and well within the reintroduction zone. Some of the bulls, however, are more adventurous and have been exploring the area.
During the official announcement of the herd's release last Thursday (Aug. 2), project manager Karsten Heuer spoke about the fact that as wild animals these plains bison could possibly leave the reintroduction area at any time. He said Parks Canada is prepared for this kind of situation and would work closely with the province, stakeholders and residents of the area to return them to the appropriate area.
In preparation for the release, signage was installed in the area to educate the public on the possibility of bison encounters in the back country at trail heads and has ongoing communication with nearby residents.
The bison were released from a smaller reintroduction zone on July 28. It is the first time the animals have lived without a fence, as they were transferred from Elk Island National Park in February 2017.
The herd had calves in 2017, and again in 2018. Parks Canada confirmed two new calves have been born since the herd was released and as of Sunday (Aug. 5) the herd now totals 33 animals.
One of the reasons why bison leaving the national park has been a concern for those managing the project is that within the province of Alberta there is still uncertainty around the status of plains bison under the Alberta Wildlife Act.