Wildlife Preservation at Elk Island National Park

Guest post by Maria Rainier

If you think the only place to see plains animals in their natural habitat is at the zoo, you might want to put Alberta, Canada’s Elk Island at the top of your list of places to visit. You’ll never even think of going to another zoo once you’ve experienced this park’s natural wildlife firsthand. After the African Serengeti, Elk Island has the highest population density of grazing animals in the world, and uncommon species like bison are among the wildlife you’ll be able to watch when you visit.

Elk Island’s Role in Elk and Bison Survival

Elk Park was established in 1906 and was renamed Elk Island Park two years later, reflecting its original purpose: to protect one of the last remaining herds of elk in Canada. It was started by five local men who signed a $5,000 bond in order to open the park and pledge their devotion to protecting the herd. In 1907, Elk Island unwittingly began its role in bison preservation when 48 of these animals escaped en route to Buffalo National Park via train. Eluding capture, the bison found that Elk Island was the perfect environment in which to flourish and soon grew substantially in numbers. Over the next century, thousands of healthy bison were sent to other plains areas with struggling populations to help save the species from endangerment and potential extinction. The year 2007 designated a century of successful bison conservation, making Elk Island National Park the leading organization in the preservation of this species.

Other Conservation Roles

In 1987, the park began a trumpeter swan reintroduction program to help these birds recover from
low population numbers and disappearing habitats. As the largest waterfowl in North America, the
trumpeter swan is an important species to conserve – and Elk Island has helped not only to save this bird from endangerment, but also to help it thrive by reestablishing it in a pristine habitat. In addition to elk, bison, and trumpeter swans, the park conserves populations of moose, deer, coyotes, beavers, and over two hundred avian species. No matter which type of animal lover you might be, you’ll find a species to watch at Elk Island National Park.

Enjoying the Park

There are two main species of bison at the park: wood and plains. It’s easy to tell them apart based on a variety of characteristics, but the easiest is probably to spot the pointed “beard” and horns on the wood bison. This species also has a longer tail and a hump that is squarer in shape, whereas plains bison have short tails and rounded humps.

Because the park is located in bison country, park rangers advise you to be careful when using your own vehicle on the scenic drives. Close encounters with bison can be breathtaking, but it’s important to be cautious in order to avoid agitating the animals. It’s recommended that you remain in the vehicle and silently wait for the bison to pass – honking your horn could result in danger. If you’re walking or hiking the trails, make noise to let the bison know you’re close by and avoid approaching any of these animals head-on. This will keep you and the incredible species of Elk Island National Park safe and free to enjoy the natural environment.

Maria RanierMaria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she’s been researching the lowest paying degrees as well as the highest paying jobs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.