How Many Bison Are Left 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.

Canadian conservation of bison history

Both white hunters and nomadic indigenous hunters in Canada hunted the wood bison and plains bison during the 18th and 19th centuries. The bison was almost extinct by the 1850s, which sparked an effort to preserve the few remaining herds. Federal wildlife policy has evolved from wilderness preservation to practical, scientific protection and management of the bison herds. These policies’ objectives were frequently in odds with one another, including the promotion of recreation, commercialization of bison, and state control over Aboriginal Canadians. The management of national parks and reserves, the application of scientific knowledge, and the federal government’s colonialist and modernist approach to Canada’s North all had an impact on bison conservation efforts.

The Unorganized Territories Game Preservation Act of 1894, which limited lawful hunting to specific times of the year, marked the beginning of government preservation initiatives. Hunting was prohibited in reserves when bison herds were located and relocated.

With a herd of 300 plains bison, Buffalo National Park in Alberta was founded in 1909. The park was overrun with bison by 1916, when there were more than 2,000 of them there. As a result, many were relocated to Alberta’s northeastern Wood Buffalo National Park (est. 1922). There, wood bison and plains bison interbred to form a new species of bison. New illnesses were spread to the existing wood bison population by the plains bison.

Aboriginal groups who depended on the bison had to find alternative sources of support as bison populations plummeted in the middle of the 19th century. Aboriginals found it more challenging to maintain their independence in the 20th century as a result of the Canadian government’s conservationist policies that prohibited hunting and requisitioned property to preserve as national parks. The Canadian bison would eventually become extinct, forcing Aboriginal people to find new means of subsistence.

The government is still making attempts to protect bison. In order to preserve the species and advance tourism, Parks Canada intends to reintroduce plains bison to Banff National Park. Commercial bison breeding continues to be done for food, directly opposing efforts to conserve wild bison. Only 20,000 of the 400,000 bison living in North America today are thought to be wild. Many conservationists think that efforts should concentrate on returning bison to their wild, undomesticated state rather than just expanding the number.


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 about 3000 wood bison in Canada, the majority of which were found at five “free-roaming” herds, the largest of which is found in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary near Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, and has more than 2000 animals. 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.

What Remains of the American Bison?

With the killing and eradication of the gigantic creatures, which had numbered in the tens of millions, bison managed to squeeze through a dangerously small genetic bottleneck in the late 1800s, according to the AP. Less than 1,000 people managed to survive at one point.

In reality, the amount was considerably lower. According to one research, there were approximately 250 Canadian bison living in five private herds, including wood bison, and 100 American bison descended from plains stock.

However, restoration efforts were successful, and there are currently roughly 11,000 bison in the nation that are genetically unmixed. However, because they are separated into small, isolated herds, the majority of which have a few hundred animals, those animals are vulnerable to inbreeding and genetic drift. Small herds that have been classified as threatened include those that can be found at an educational exhibit in North Dakota, an Oklahoma game preserve, and an Alaska national park.

A small herd’s genetic decline could be slowed by trading a few bison between herds once every ten years or so, but the issue of genetic variety would still exist. For that, the species requires more enormous herds like the one found in Yellowstone, according to Cynthia Hartway, a conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Another option might include using frozen embryos or in vitro fertilization, although doing so would shield the current herds from natural selection.

Native bison are also in danger because many of them have been crossed with domestic cattle over the years to create a breed with greater meat and docile demeanor. A 2007 study that used DNA markers indicated that conservation herds that were managed as pure bison herds had little cow ancestry.

Which brings us back to Yellowstone and the relatively recent discovery that the imposing bison that block traffic on the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction are more significant biologically than the average tourist realizes. Aside from those bison, there is only one other herd—at a national park in South Dakota—that scientists are reasonably confident is devoid of cattle ancestry.

According to a National Park Service article, “Bisons have survived and continue to thrive both in wild herds and in domestic production herds, despite the considerably reduced genetic chances.”

According to some geneticists, this is because the last bison from the historic range survived in several geographically distinct areas, the bottleneck preserved significant ‘adaptability’ genes from throughout the historic range, and new genetic variation may have been introduced through some early 20th-century efforts to hybridize captive bison with domestic cattle (although most would argue this was ultimately detrimental to the wild species).

For long-term survival, dozens of wood bison from Canada relocated to Alaska.

The wood bison has been designated as an endangered species in Canada since 2003. According to the website of the Canadian government, the population has been dropping throughout their range, and if nothing is done to conserve them, they risk becoming extinct, becoming extinct, or becoming endangered.

Canada declared that wood bison faced “imminent threats to their recovery” in January 2020.

Steven Guilbeault, the environment minister, declared on Thursday that 40 wood bison from Alberta’s Elk Island National Park had been relocated to Alaska in a secure manner. Wood bison have enormous humps on their backs and dark brown coats with long, shaggy fur on the shoulders.

Historically, the boreal regions of northwest Canada and interior Alaska were home to wood bison, which were larger than plains bison. According to the Canadian government, there may have been 168,000 people living in Canada in the early 1800s.

But other issues, like as habitat degradation, have a cost. There were only a few hundred remained in Canada by the late 1800s.

An estimated 100 or more wild wood bison were living in western Alaska in 2015 according to the Alaska wood bison restoration effort.

Currently, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories are home to wood bison.

What percentage of bison remain in 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.