Edmonton

Wild ones: Bison young thriving at Elk Island National Park

With wobbling legs and soft coat of russet wool, a new generation of bison have joined the herd at Elk Island National Park. It's calving season and scores of "little reds" can be spotted ambling alongside their mothers.

A new generation of 'little reds' are roaming the prairie preserve

The new calves are referred to as "little reds" for their signature rust-coloured coat. (Parks Canada)

With their wobbling legs and soft coat of russet wool, a new generation of bison have joined the herd at Elk Island National Park.

It's calving season and scores of "little reds" can be spotted ambling alongside their mothers.

The first calf appeared last month, and the little ones will continue arriving for another week or so

"Right now, their fur is red," said Robyn O'Neill, a communications officer with Elk Island National Park, located 35 kilometres east of Edmonton city limits. 

"That helps them blend in with the grasses and when they turn about eight weeks old, it turns to the dark brown that you see in their moms and their dads."

For decades, the park has been instrumental in conservation of the North American wood bison population.

Since the turn of the century, when plains bison were first brought to the park from Montana, more than 100 generations of the animals have roamed the grounds.

The park is home to approximately 800 wood and plain bison, and that number is expected to surge this spring.

Each year, the park's bison population grows by about 20 per cent, said O'Neill.

'Treat them with the respect they deserve'

As cute and cuddly as they may appear, visitors need to remember that the little ones are still wild, and getting too close could put you in danger.

Visitors are reminded to stay at least 100 metres away from bison at all times, and never come between a mother and her calves.

Agitated animals will snort, toss their heads, paw the ground and raise their tails. Even if they appear docile, animals which feel threatened may charge with little warning.

"We ask that people treat them with the respect they deserve," O'Neill said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"The mamas want to protect their babies right now so they're going to be a little bit more wary of their space, so it's just important to keep that distance."

For those who do want a glimpse of the little ones, O'Neill recommends visiting the park early in the morning, before the hot sun forces the furry beasts into hiding.

"As long as it's before the heat of the day because they'll go under the leaves in the forest to get out of the hot sun."

"But there will be a good number of babies running around for folks to see."

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