Banff National Park Welcomes Baby Bison For The First Time In 140 Years

Major birth announcement: Three baby bison were born in Canada’s Banff National Park, which is a huge deal for the park that began reintroducing bison to its protected back-country earlier this year through a major conservation project.

Making this birth story even sweeter is the fact that the first calf was born on Earth Day. Not only that, but these are the first baby bison to be born in the park in more than 140 years.

People from parks system are beaming with pride, and have posted some baby photos on Instagram. (Yes, the calf is already learning how to walk, and in the snow no less—they grow up so fast!)

“Its baby steps are part of a larger vision to reintroduce wild plain #bison to Canada’s first national park!” Parks Canada wrote.

Bison once roamed free in Banff, which is Canada’s oldest national park. But hunters pushed the animals to the brink of extinction, and free-roaming bison were absent from the landscape for more than a century, according to Parks Canada. In February, park staff successfully transferred 16 healthy bison—including several pregnant 2-year-olds—to Banff.

Wondering how a large-scale bison transfer goes down? The bison were loaded into custom-made shipping containers and transported by truck to a government-owned ranch near Banff National Park. They were then airlifted by helicopter and released into a pasture.

The bison, though absent for years, were dominant grazers who helped shape the ecosystems at Banff, according to Parks Canada. The bison, for now, are remaining in an enclosed pasture in the Panther Valley back-country of Banff, where they’re monitored by staff.

In 2018, they’ll be released to explore a “reintroduction zone” on the remote eastern slopes of Banff, where they can forage for food and once again be a key player in the ecosystem they helped shape.

Moms and babies are doing great, according to the park rangers. Bill Hunt, the resource conservation manager at Banff, told BBC the females are “doing a great job” and nursing well.

“The bison moms know what they’re doing,” he told BBC. “Our staff are in the woods carefully hiding from the sidelines to see if everything’s going well.”

Feeling compelled to go visit Canada’s national parks? You can do so for free this year, as Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday with free admission to its 46 national parks, 171 historical sites and four national marine conservation areas. Here’s how you can get your free pass.

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Looks like Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations could be drawing more tourists from the United States, too. According to Liligo, a traveler’s search engine, flight searches for summer departures from the United States to Canada increased 16 percent from 2016 to 2017.