Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Where the Bison Roam: Walk among the Shaggy Beasts at Elk Island National Park

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Where the Bison Roam: Walk among the Shaggy Beasts at Elk Island National Park

Article excerpt

Where the bison roam: Elk Island park


ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK, - Before travellers reach the towering refinery stacks marking the eastern edge of Edmonton, some pull over to the side of the highway and snap photos of the large shaggy beasts nonchalantly grazing near the ditches.

The vast green parkland, missed by many in a rush to reach the Alberta capital, is the home where nearly 1,000 bison roam.

Of course, Elk Island National Park also hosts 800 elk and even 250 species of birds. But the hefty bovines are the main attraction.

And although the park is a big tourist destination, it's also a conservation farm for the animals once hunted to near extinction.

"Our bison are definitely a big part of what makes Elk Island really special," says Maureen Shenher, a spokeswoman for the park.

The site is the only entirely-fenced national park in the country, practically an island, but that doesn't mean people can't go inside. About 200,000 visitors who venture through its gates each year have their choice of a dozen hiking trails that stretch more than 80 kilometres, winding through forests and meadows and around various lakes.

Along the way, it's possible to catch some close-up moments with the big, beautiful brutes.

Although bison don't often attack people, they are wild animals. Shenher says a park warden was gored and wounded while trying to round up one of the animals in the 60s. And last year, a female hiker who startled a bison was cut on the leg when the animal ran passed her, clipping her with one of its horns.

Many bison also give birth in May. And while their fluffy, reddish-brown calves are certainly cute, the mothers become quite protective. Then there's the summer "rutt," or mating season. It's interesting to hear the amorous animals sound like African lions, but they can also become more aggressive, warns Shenher.

She suggests visitors keep a safe distance, about the length of three school buses. And watch for signs the animals are about to charge.

"They'll raise their tails. They'll stamp their feet," says Shenher. "And sometimes -- they'll poop."

Oh, yes, they poop.

The biggest warning of all may well be: don't forget to look down. …

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