Great Canadian Parks / NWT/ Alberta
 

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The Parks / NWT / Alberta / Wood Buffalo National Park


 


 


The park was created in 1922 initially to protect the existing habitat of about 1500 head of wood buffalo. At about 1400 kilograms, the North American bison, a member of the cattle family, has some formidable characteristics: a scraggy beard, curved horns, a shoulder hump, short tail and long shaggy woolly hair. Before 1830, their numbers had been estimated at as high as 60 million. At that time, because the US military had been unable to totally defeat the Indian populations, the American government sanctioned the systematic slaughter of the plains buffalo, whose excellent meat and hide coupled with its ability to withstand severe weather and thrive on scant vegetation, had made it the mainstay of the natives’ survival. By the turn of the century, there were only 23 plains buffalo in Yellowstone National Park, 88 on a ranch in Montana and possibly 500 in northern Alberta. In 1906, the Canadian government purchased the by now sizeable (700) Montana herd and released them in Elk Island National Park to await completion of Wood Buffalo National Park. Before they could be re-located however, infections of tuberculosis and brucellosis broke out in the herd and were not under control by 1925 when they began shipping the 7000 plains bison to their new home. The hybridization of these bison and the 1500 wood bison already in the park eliminated the existence of a pure strain of either. Perhaps the more serious problem arose from the unchecked spread of disease, which today is still decimating the buffalo in the park. Fortunately, a small herd of purebred, disease-free wood buffalo was discovered in a remote section of Buffalo Park and 23 were sent to Elk Island in 1965 where their number is increasing steadily.


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