Banff wolves may soon have meal they haven't tasted in 140 years: wild bison

Banff's reintroduced bison herd is getting ready to go it alone next summer as their paddock fences come down, and that means facing predators that have been watching the new arrivals closely.

Predators watching closely as Parks Canada prepares to remove protection for bison herds

A herd of 16 bison was relocated to Banff National Park this spring by helicopter. Many gave birth to calves this summer, successfully expanding the herd ahead of its release. (Johane Janelle/Parks Canada)

It's a potential meal that wolves in Banff National Park haven't tasted in more than 140 years: wild bison. 

Banff's reintroduced bison herd is getting ready to go it alone next summer as their paddock fences come down, and that means facing predators that have been watching the new arrivals closely.

Ten new bison calves were born earlier this year in the Panther Valley, on the east side of Banff National Park, where 16 animals were relocated in April as part of a conservation project to reintroduce wild bison to the area after more than a century of absence in the mountain park.

"We're interested in what effect bison will have on the ecosystem and at the same time how wolves will affect bison movements," said Parks Canada wildlife ecologist Jesse Whittington.

Parks Canada ecologist Jesse Whittington says wolves are already travelling in the vicinity of the bison enclosure and says the animals are aware of each other. Earlier this year, grizzly bear prints were found near the enclosure. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Historically, bison and wolves coexisted on the landscape in and around the area that now makes up Banff National Park, and experts want to understand how that will look this time around.

"Right now, the bison are in a secure enclosure, and we know that wolves are travelling around that enclosure but cannot get in to access the bison. But I'm sure the two are aware of each other," said Whittington.

Earlier this year, there were also reports of grizzly bear paw prints around the bison enclosure after the births of 10 calves in the spring.

A bison calf nurses from its mother. The first bison calf in the park was born in the Panther Valley on April 22. (Parks Canada/Karsten Heuer)

"We hope to radio collar some wolves in the Panther-Cascade area to collect baseline data on what wolves are eating, where they're travelling and how they might impact the bison reintroduction," Whittington said.

Whittington notes that In Yellowstone National Park, bison make up about 40 per cent of the wolf diet there, with young, sick or injured animals accounting for the bulk of the bison consumed.

"Bison are big animals and are difficult to kill, so we don't expect wolves to [prey on] a lot of bison, but it will be interesting to see how the two interact," Whittington said.

"It could have downstream effects on other prey populations, like elk, deer and moose."

Bison bolt from the shipping containers they were transported in from Elk Island National Park near Edmonton. (Johane Janelle/Parks Canada)

Campaigners who backed the reintroduction project say they're thrilled at the prospect of the animals roaming free and contributing to the ecosystem as the bison herd grows in the national park over time.

"I think it's going to be an exciting moment," said Marie-Eve Marchand of Bison Belong.

"It makes this whole cycle of life and nature working together," she added. "When they get sick or older they will feed a lot of animals, it could make a big difference for weeks for wolves. Also ravens, other birds, coyotes, foxes — it's amazing."

When the fences eventually come down, the herd will be allowed to roam in about a fifth of Banff National Park, or about 1,200 square kilometres.


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on the city’s diverse northeast quadrant and sharing stories from under-reported communities. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at