Parks Canada, the country’s national parks office, airdropped 16 young and pregnant wild plains bison into Alberta’s Banff National Park on February 1 in order to help repopulate the area with the threatened species.
The bison in question were taken from Elk Island National Park, located near Edmonton, Alberta, and transported to a nearby ranch overnight. In the morning, a helicopter airlifted them to Banff National Park (see exactly how the operation went down above).
Upon the successful airdrop, this marked the first time that a wild bison has been inside Banff National Park in more than a century. Millions of them used to live there, but local hunters drove their ancestors to near extinction during the 1800s.
Conservationists hope that new measures will allow bison to take back their crown as a keystone species in the park. The plan, which follows the path laid out by bison reintroduction efforts in North American prairies, is to expand the herd’s grazing range to a 463-square-mile area by June 2018.
As of now, Parks Canada said that the bison do not have free range of the park just yet, as they are still acclimating to their new surroundings. But wildlife officials have tagged the bison and will monitor the herd’s behavior to make sure that things go well.
“By returning plains bison to Banff National Park, Parks Canada is taking an important step toward restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to the park’s ecosystems while providing new opportunities for Canadians and visitors to connect with the story of this iconic species,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s federal minister of environment and climate change, to the Calgary Sun.
However, some have criticized Parks Canada methods. Not only is this operation costing more than $6 million, but local livestock and agriculture interests are worried about the effects that the bison will have once their numbers grow exponentially.