How Many Bison Are In Canada?

There are currently roughly 2,200 plains bison and about 11,000 wood bison grazing freely in Canada as a result of this and other bison reintroductions. However, because of their still-small numbers, herds are still under risk from disease, habitat loss, and tamed bison with cattle DNA.

Discover Canada’s Buffalo

The image for October’s calendar is a magnificent female Buffalo posing in the rain on a mountainside. Paule Hjertaas took this magnificent picture in the Waterton National Park in Alberta.

Mammals from the cow family include buffalo. This species, commonly known as bison, is known as the American bison (Bison bison). It is frequently divided into the Wood Bison and Plains Bison subspecies, however others claim there is no taxonomic foundation for this. In Canada, there are about 2,200 Plains bison and 10,000 Wood bison, both in wild and captive herds.

American bison are frequently seen in river basins or broad grasslands that span the prairies and plains. Parts of British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are among the Canadian provinces where they can be found.

The largest mammal to live in Canada, the bison has short brown fur along its back and a long brown mane covering its head, neck, and shoulders. It also has a massive shoulder hump covered in shaggy brown fur. Their horns and hooves are also short and bent. Male wood bison stand 1.67 to 1.82 meters tall and weigh 350 to 1000 kg, making them bigger than females. The male Plains bison is between 1.7 and 2.8 meters tall and weighs between 600 and 860 kg.

Bison are sociable creatures by nature, and they frequently move in huge herds of 15 to 20 animals. Many animals join other herds during the migratory season. At dusk or during the night, they are most active. Typically, men and females live apart in tiny groups and only reunite for mating in the summer.

Up to 30–60 million Buffalo once roamed freely across North America, from Mexico to northern Canada, just two centuries ago. By the late 19th century, settlements had overhunted and mass-murdered them to the point of extinction.

A rule prohibiting the killing of Wood Bison was originally proposed in 1877 in an effort to aid in the recovery of the bison population. In order to safeguard the remnant herds, Canada’s largest national park, Wood Buffalo National Park, was created in 1922. One of the world’s largest free-roaming and autonomous bison herds resides there!

The Canadian Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife evaluated both the Wood and Plains Bison subspecies (COSEWIC). According to COSEWIC, the Wood Bison is a Special Concern, and the SARA lists it as a Schedule 1 Threatened Species. According to COSEWIC, the Plains Bison is classified as Threatened.

National Park of Wood Buffalo[edit]

The largest national park in North America, Wood Buffalo National Park, was created in 1922 and is located in northeastern Alberta and the southern part of The Northwest Territories. Bison herds, whose numbers had decreased from an estimated 40 million in 1830 to less than 1000 by 1900, were protected by it. Despite having foreign and native populations that carried bovine diseases like brucellosis and TB, the population had grown to between 10,000 and 12,000 by 1934. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, there were 12,500 to 15,000 bison left in the wild.

However, Parks Canada reported in 1998 that there were only about 2,300 people living there. This decline was brought on by a number of things, including killings, the end of wolf poisoning, disease control roundups, floods, illnesses, predation, and habitat changes. Huge political discussion over the future of bison in the park and how to deal with contagious bovine diseases that were perceived to be a threat to commercial herds came from these significant decreases and the eradication of existing pure-strain bison. A federally financed assessment team suggested the importation of disease-free wood bison from Elk Island National Park and maybe elsewhere in August 1990, but due to a swift and unfavorable public reaction, no action was taken. An extensive 5-year study on the frequency and consequences of brucellosis and tuberculosis on the bison population of Wood Buffalo National Park was carried out between 1996 and 2001 as part of the Bison Research and Containment Program (BRCP). Numerous research studies are still being conducted in order to comprehend the shifting dynamics of this particular environment.


The Bovidae family of huge, even-toed hoofed mammals includes bison. The plains bison (Bison bison bison) and the wood bison are the two subspecies of bison that can be found in North America (Bison bison athabascae). In the past, wood bison were found farther north, from Alaska through the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as well as in the northern parts of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, whereas plains bison were largely found in the Great Plains of central North America. It is estimated that there were 170,000 wood bison and 30 million plains bison in North America before the arrival of the Europeans. The quick extinction of the bison in North America was caused by a number of factors of European colonialism. The plains bison had vanished from Canada by the late 1800s, and there were only approximately 200 wood bison left. The plains bison population in North America now varies between 350,000 and 400,000, and the wood bison population between 5,000 and 7,000 as a result of conservation efforts in both Canada and the United States.


The plains bison was by far the most prevalent of the two subspecies 200 years ago. It frequently appeared in vast herds and was the primary grazer of the continent’s inner plains. East of the Mississippi, there was a lesser population.

Plains bison are quite rare today. At Elk Island National Park, 64 kilometers east of Edmonton, a herd of roughly 600 animals is penned in. In Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park, Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park, and Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, there are only a few. In national, state, and wildlife refuges across the United States, there are at least 25 herds of plains bison totaling more than 10,000 animals. In both Canada and the United States, there are more over 140 000 in private collections and on numerous commercial farms.

Its prairie cousin has always lived to the north of the wood bison. Its historical range was centered in northern Alberta and the surrounding regions of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories. Aspen parkland, the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the Peace and Slave River valleys’ lowlands, and the coniferous woods and marsh meadows of the upper Mackenzie Valley were also used by herds. The wood bison never reached the plains bison’s levels of abundance, peaking at no more than 170,000 animals.

In April 1994, there were around 3 000 wood bison in Canada, primarily at five “free-roaming” herds, the largest of which consists of more than 2 000 animals in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary near Fort Providence, Northwest Territories. The 350-animal source herd for the recovery initiative is located at Elk Island National Park. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada considers the wood bison to be vulnerable because of its limited overall population (COSEWIC).

On the boundary of the Northwest Territories and Alberta, in Wood Buffalo National Park, there is another sizable herd of free-ranging bison that consists of roughly 2000 individuals. These animals are hybrids of plains and wood bison ancestry.


Around 30 million bison are thought to have roamed the continent before the arrival of the Europeans. In 1888, there were just 85 Plains bison left in North America due to destroyed herds. Population losses were brought on by:

  • Intentional eradication carried out by the U.S. Federal Government in the 18th century to cut back on First Nations’ food supply
  • habitat destruction brought on by agricultural encroachment, fire suppression, and dam construction
  • Overhunting

In Canada, there are only five isolated wild subpopulations of the plains bison, with one herd of about 450 animals in Elk Island National Park. In Canada, there are 1,200–1,500 mature wild individuals, occupying fewer than 0.5% of their former habitat.

3,536 wood bison (2,828 in the wild) are uninfected. There are six subpopulations of Wood bison in Alberta: Wood Buffalo national Park; Elk Island National Park; Ronald Lake; Wentzel/Wabasca; Hay-Zama; and Etthithun. There are 5,136-7,172 wild adult individuals in Canada.

In Alberta, how many bison are left?

Both bison population growth and habitat protection are required in Alberta. More safeguards for wild bison have been demanded by Indigenous communities, leaders, environmental organizations, and specialists for many years.

There are two subspecies of bison, often commonly called “buffalo”, in Canada: wood bison and plains bison. In the past, there were more than 30 million plains bison in North America. By the late 1880s in Canada, overfishing, habitat degradation, and illness had almost completely wiped them out. Their closely related cousins, the wood bison, had a population of around 170,000 but had declined to only 200 animals nationwide.

All of the plains bison in Alberta are semi-wild, captive, or part of farmed herds. Elk Island National Park is home to about 500 semi-wild plains bison. As a result of extensive conservation efforts, there are currently an estimated 2,800 wild wood bison roaming freely in Alberta and about 700 wood bison kept in captivity. These figures represent a tiny portion of what our landscapes originally supported.

Wild bison continue to suffer serious risks from habitat degradation, bovine illnesses, and unrestricted shooting despite continued conservation efforts. The Species At Risk Act (SARA) of Canada classifies wood bison as “Threatened,” while the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has classified plains bison as “Threatened” (COSEWIC).

Since they have been formally classified as “Threatened” under the Alberta Wildlife Act, wild wood bison in northern Alberta will be recognized as “wildlife” as of November 12, 2021.

Given that farmed bison are present throughout much of the southern part of the province, many Albertans would be surprised to hear that up until 2021, wild wood bison were not officially classified as “wildlife,” but rather as “livestock.” Without the “wildlife” status, there are no restrictions on harvesting wild bison herds, which means endangered bison could be taken at any time, by anybody, anywhere.

Wild wood bison hunting is currently restricted in a number of large areas throughout northern Alberta due to their “Threatened” classification. Wild herds that are disease-free will be further protected by special bison protection areas.

Alberta’s national parks are renowned for their work to repopulate wild bison herds that are free of disease. Public lands in Alberta require equal effort.

Bison populations have been famously preserved and increased within the boundaries of Elk Island National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park, and more recently Banff National Park. However, as soon as these animals enter provincial territory, they are once more in danger because they are now regarded as “stray cattle.” In Saskatchewan, where wild bison are cooperatively managed on federal and provincial areas, contrast this with co-management programs.

Your support will enable more advanced protective measures to be implemented in order to maintain wild bison populations. Sadly, plains bison continue to lack these same safeguards.

In Alberta, conservation efforts are still desperately needed for the bison. The factors causing the decline are still present, and we still run the risk of losing these species’ long-term survival, particularly as the genetically distinct herds get smaller and smaller.

Do bison face extinction in Canada?

The number of bison on the continent has increased, moving them from endangered to “near threatened” category. Just than 120,000 bison were found on Canadian farms, according to the 2016 census, which is a significant rise from the 42,000 animals counted ten years earlier.

Where can you find bison in Canada?

Who lives there? American bison are frequently seen in river basins or broad grasslands that span the prairies and plains. Parts of British Columbia, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are among the Canadian provinces where they can be found.

What percentage of bison inhabit North America?

Across all of the public lands in the United States, there are about 15,000 different species of animals. Private herds, such as those maintained by The Nature Conservancy, house the few remaining bison populations.

Where can I find the most bison?

Custer State Park in South Dakota is well-known for its annual roundup of buffalo. There are thousands of bison held by tribes and privately in South Dakota, but the two major publicly owned herds are there and at Badlands National Park. According to the most current U.S. census, South Dakota actually has the most bison of any state. Agriculture Census was finished in 2012. The top five states for bison, along with the number of bison in each, are listed below.