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The Wood Bison or Wood Buffalo (Bison bison athabascae) is a distinct northern subspecies of the North American Bison. Its original range included much of the boreal forest regions of Alaskamarker, Yukonmarker, western Northwest Territoriesmarker, northeastern British Columbiamarker, northern Albertamarker, and northwestern Saskatchewanmarker. It is included on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) threatened species list.

Morphology

The Wood Bison differs from the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison), the other surviving North American subspecies, in a number of important ways. Most notably, the Wood Bison is heavier, with large males weighing over , making it the largest terrestrial animal in North America. The highest point of the Wood Bison is well ahead of its front legs, while the Plains Bison's highest point is directly above the front legs.

Conservation

In addition to the loss of habitat and hunting, Wood Bison populations have also been in danger of hybridizing with Plains Bison, and therefore polluting the genetic stock.

As with other bison, the Wood Bison's population was devastated by hunting and other factors. By the early 1900s, they were regarded as extremely rare or perhaps nearly extinct. However, a herd of about 200 was discovered in Alberta, Canada in 1957. This herd has since recovered to a total population of approximately 2,500, largely as a result of conservation efforts by Canadian government agencies. In 1988, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) changed the subspecies' conservation status from "endangered" to "threatened".

On June 17, 2008, 53 Canadian Wood Bison were transferred from Elk Island National Parkmarker in Alberta, Canada, to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage, Alaskamarker. There they will be held in quarantine for two years, and then re-introduced to their native habitat in the Minto Flats area near Fairbanksmarker.

Currently there are only 3,000 Wood Bison in the wild, located in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia, and Alberta.

Diseases

Publicly-owned free-ranging herds in Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories comprise 90% of existing Wood Bison, although six smaller public and private captive breeding herds with conservation objectives comprise approximately 10% of the total (n ≈ 900). These captive herds and two large isolated free-ranging herds in the Yukon and Northwest Territories all derive from disease-free and morphologically representative founding stock from northern Wood Buffalo National Parkmarker in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories. These captive herds are particularly important for conservation and recovery purposes, because the larger free-ranging herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park were infected with bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis after 7,000 Plains Bison (Bison bison bison) were trans-shipped by barge from Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Albertamarker in the 1920s.

Diseases including brucellosis and tuberculosis remain endemic in the free-ranging herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park. The diseases represent a serious management issue for governments, various local Aboriginal groups, and the cattle industry rapidly encroaching on the park's boundaries. Disease management strategies and initiatives began in the 1950s, and have yet to result in a reduction of the incidence of either disease despite considerable expenditure and increased public involvement.

References

  1. The words "buffalo" and "bison" are often used interchangeably in popular parlance; however, the scientific name for this North American bovine is "bison".
  2. Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation
  3. Canada Helps Restore Wood Bison to Alaska in International Conservation Effort to Recover a Threatened Species, Yahoo! Finance, July 9, 2008
  4. State brings back wood bison, Anchorage Daily News, June 27th, 2008
  5. Wood Bison Conservation in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation


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