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Wood bison, also known as the wood buffalo or forest-dwelling bison, is a subspecies of North American bison. It has historically been found in boreal forests across Canada and Alaska. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, it was almost driven to extinction by overhunting before protective measures were taken in the late 19th century.

Today, wood bison are slowly returning from their near-extinction numbers after conservation efforts have helped restore them to their former range.

Wood bison

Species Identification

Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) is a species of large, grazing mammal that inhabits boreal forests and Arctic tundra regions. It belongs to the family Bovidae and is closely related to the European bison. Wood bison are identified by their distinctive body shape, size and coat coloration. Males typically weigh around 900 kg while females can reach up to 600 kg in weight. The body length ranges from 2-3 m long with an impressive shoulder height of 1-2 m tall.

The distinguishing features of wood bison include short black horns that curve outwards towards the end, dark brown fur on its back and head, white fur on its legs and muzzle as well as a light coloured stripe along its spine. Its tail is also tipped with white tufts of hair for added protection against predators during cold winter months.

Conservation efforts have been made to protect this species from potential threats such as hunting, habitat destruction and poaching due to its threatened status in Canada and elsewhere. In recent years, various initiatives have been taken including reintroduction programs aimed at preserving wood bison populations in protected areas across North America.

Historical Range And Abundance

The Canadian wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) is the largest mammal in North America and historically ranged from northern Alaska to southwestern Yukon. It occupied most of the boreal forest, as well as parts of the western grassland region and Arctic tundra.

Before European colonization, wood bison populations were abundant across much of its former range. This species was heavily hunted for their meat, hides, bones, horns, and other products during this period. As a result, by 1890 there had been considerable declines in their overall numbers throughout Canada.

Since then, additional losses have occurred due to further hunting pressure and habitat fragmentation. Currently, only three isolated herds remain: one on Banks Island in the Northwest Territories; another at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba; and a third at Elk Island National Park near Edmonton Alberta.

These are managed separately with varying levels of success depending upon environmental conditions. For example, the herd on Banks Island has increased steadily since it was founded while others have experienced periodic declines followed by gradual recovery over time due to natural fluctuations in population size or disease outbreaks such as brucellosis or anthrax infection.

Wood bison reintroduction programs have also contributed towards conservation efforts for this species. In recent years different provinces have released captive-bred animals into parks with hopes that they will establish self-sustaining wild populations again over time within protected areas where appropriate habitat exists or can be restored through active management practices such as prescribed burning or reforestation initiatives.

Despite these efforts however, many challenges still exist which may limit future improvements in restoring historical range and abundance levels among wood bison populations across Canada.

Habitat Requirements

Wood bison are adapted to a wide range of habitats, though they prefer boreal forest and wet meadows. These animals require areas with an abundance of grasses and sedges for grazing throughout the summer months as well as access to mineral-rich soils in which to wallow.

Wood bison also depend on trees or shrubs for windbreaks during winter months when temperatures can dip below -40°C. Furthermore, these large ungulates need areas with plentiful seasonal water sources such as small streams, ponds and lakes for drinking, bathing and cooling off during hot days.

When selecting habitat wood bison generally avoid heavily disturbed sites that lack vegetation cover, preferring instead large tracts of undisturbed land within their historical ranges.

Recent research has indicated that wood bison select home ranges by favouring specific combinations of food plants, topography and water availability over others. In addition to this modified landscapes may be used if certain criteria regarding available resources are met; including the presence of sufficient quality browse species (e.g. willows) across open meadow systems plus enough low elevation wetlands containing diverse aquatic plant communities within close proximity.

In order to ensure suitable long-term habitat requirements for this species it is recommended that conservationists focus efforts on preserving natural landscape features (such as riparian corridors), securing secure calving grounds from predators and maintaining connectivity between existing population centres through ongoing restoration activities.

Bison’s Predators Revealed: Unveiling the Threats

Behavior And Social Structure

Having established the habitat requirements necessary for wood bison conservation, it is important to consider their behavior and social structure in order to understand herd dynamics. Wood bison are a highly social species that live in herds of varying sizes; some may contain several hundred individuals while others hold as few as ten or twenty animals.

This species forms hierarchies based on an animal’s size, strength and age, with older bulls often taking leadership roles within the group. In addition, males will sometimes establish temporary territories which they defend from other males during mating season.

Wood bison have also been observed exhibiting various behaviors associated with grooming and communication such as rubbing heads against each other, vocalizations, posturing, sniffing and scent marking.

These activities help maintain relationships among herd members by reinforcing dominance hierarchies or forming alliances between certain individuals. Furthermore, calves form strong bonds with their mothers at birth that can last up to three years after weaning occurs.

In terms of ecological importance, wood bison play an integral role in maintaining healthy grasslands across northern Canada due to their foraging habits. By grazing selectively on different types of vegetation, these animals promote natural selection within plant communities and provide nutrient-rich manure which increases soil fertility over time.

Additionally, their presence helps control populations of prey species like snowshoe hares which can cause damage to habitats when numbers grow too large. As such, understanding the behavior and social structure of this iconic species is essential for ensuring its continued survival into the future.

Diet And Foraging Strategies

Wood bison are herbivores that feed primarily on grasses and sedges. They have evolved to possess a wide variety of foraging strategies, which they employ while grazing in their natural habitats. This includes grazing on both fresh spring growth as well as mature vegetation; often mixing the two together. In addition, wood bison also consume lichens, mushrooms, shrubs, fruits and other plant material when available.

The diet of wood bison varies seasonally with availability of food sources and weather conditions. During winter months there is limited access to food due to snow accumulation or frozen ground conditions making it difficult for them to graze.

Wood bison typically migrate during this time in search of more nutritious food sources such as willow buds and twigs from shrub thickets surrounding wetlands or streambanks. In summer months, wood bison focus their feeding activity mostly on meadows containing rich green grasses providing high nutrition content helping them meet their daily metabolic needs.

Wood bison require year-round access to adequate food resources for optimal health and reproduction rates. It is essential that suitable habitat remain undisturbed by human activities so these animals can continue to benefit from its nutrient-rich environment needed for survival within their range throughout North America.

Reproduction And Lifecycle

Reproduction in wood bison occurs seasonally and is heavily dependent on environmental conditions. Mating rituals usually begin in mid-July, with bulls gathering around a single cow who cycles through the herd to mate.

Wood bison are polygynous, meaning one or more males can breed with several females during calving season. The gestation period for wood bison lasts 285–310 days and results in the birth of one calf, though twins occur rarely.

Calf development occurs very quickly after birth. Within hours of being born, calves begin standing and walking alongside their mothers; by 24 hours old they start nursing; within two weeks they become independent enough to graze without much guidance from the mother.

Calves reach physical maturity between three and four years old when reproductive success begins for both sexes. Bulls may reach sexual maturity earlier than cows, but because of competition between dominant bulls, subordinate animals may take longer to gain access to mates.

Wood bison reproduction strategies have evolved over time due to resource availability and changes in predation pressure which help them survive as a species despite threats that face this subspecies today such as habitat loss and disease transmission. Overall, successful mating behavior has enabled wood bison populations to remain strong throughout North America.

Wood bison

Conservation Status

Wood bison are listed as an endangered species in both Canada and the United States. To ensure the continued survival of this species, conservation efforts have been put into place by multiple governmental organizations. These include recovery plans that focus on habitat protection, population management, reintroduction programs, and monitoring trends within the wild population.

In terms of progress made towards its conservation status, wood bison’s populations have seen some improvement in areas where they were once thought to be extinct or nearly extinct.

This is largely due to successful reintroduction efforts which have allowed for a stronger foothold in their native range. However, there are still several challenges facing these animals such as disease outbreaks among captive herds and competition from other large herbivores like elk and deer.

Despite these challenges, ongoing conservation measures remain essential for maintaining healthy populations of wood bison across North America. With concerted effort from scientific experts, government agencies, landowners, ranchers and hunters alike, it is possible to further stabilize current population numbers and increase chances for future growth.


The wood bison is a large and remarkable species of North American mammal. Once, this animal was abundant across the northern parts of the continent but saw significant decline due to hunting and habitat destruction.

Wood bison require complex habitats with suitable foraging areas, water sources and protection from predators. These animals form social herds that consist mainly of female groups led by dominant bulls. Their diet consists mostly of grasses and sedges which they consume in great quantity during selective foraging bouts.

Reproduction involves seasonal mating between males and females resulting in calves born annually or bi-annually depending on climatic conditions. Overall, conservation efforts have been successful in helping stabilize population numbers but there are still threats posed to their survival such as disease outbreaks, poaching and continued loss of habitat.

In order to ensure long-term success for this species, further research into its behavior, ecology and genetics must be conducted while also increasing management strategies to protect them against anthropogenic impacts. Ultimately, it is clear that only through active conservation can we hope to secure the future of these magnificent creatures.