The wood buffalo or bison (either is correct) was considered to be almost extinct in the early 1900’s due to hunting and disease. Happily, a herd of 200 was discovered in northeastern Alberta. Through conservation efforts, including the founding of the Wood Buffalo National Park, which, at 44,807 km2 is slightly larger than Switzerland, the herd has grown to approximately 7,000 animals. No longer considered endangered, the species is still classified as threatened, due to diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis, which have infected the wild herds.
About 10% of the population is held privately; and the Kanatha-Aki Centre, near the town of Mount Tremblant in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, hosts about two dozen of these massive animals, larger than the closely-related plains bison, with mature males weighing up to 2000 lbs.
These private herds are not just a tourist attraction, but are important in the event that the public herds in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba should be decimated by disease. Recently some wood bison have been transferred to Alaska and to Russia, the latter to replace the extinct steppe bison.
I was lucky enough to encounter the Kanatha-Aki Nature Centre’s herd on a horseback riding excursion in an area mostly noted for its world famous ski hills. Kanatha-Aki means “guardian of the boundless earth” in Algonquin. The herd has thrived here and has even seen the birth of two very rare albino buffalo, highly revered by the Algonquin natives, perhaps a sign that the native deities smile on the enterprise.
Run by French national, Stephane Denis, the centre offers a variety of activities that extend to dog-sledding, zip-lining, hiking, massage, a restaurant and fishing. Since it was summer, dog-sledding wasn’t an option but the bison herd was an impressive sight on a misty May morning and well worth a visit when travelling through the Laurentians.
Teepees spotted around the property promise an authentic aboriginal experience for those wishing to stay on the premises, though likely a bit chilly in the winter!
Kudos to Stephane for his efforts to preserve and make available to the public a threatened animal species.
Photos courtesy of Stella van Der Lugt—All rights reserved.