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Edmonton man describes bison attack at Elk Island: ‘It was basically your worst nightmare’

Craig Neilson in the ambulance after being attacked by a bison on Elk Island National Park. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook

An Edmonton man who went for a jog while camping at Elk Island National Park over the May long weekend said he never anticipated he’d have to run away from a charging bison.

Craig Neilson and his wife, Amberly, were camping at Astotin Lake Campground. On Saturday morning, Neilson decided to go for a jog.

He left his pregnant wife sleeping in the tent and headed out, but never figured he’d be coming back with a three-inch wound on his butt cheek, which he said was caused by a bison horn.

He was almost back to the gates to the campground when he saw a bison grazing in the ditch.

Before the attack, Craig had been enjoying a nice jog and was taking pictures of the scenery. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook
Before the attack, Craig had been enjoying a nice jog and was taking pictures of the scenery. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook
Before the attack, Craig had been enjoying a nice jog and was taking pictures of the scenery. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook
Before the attack, Craig had been enjoying a nice jog and was taking pictures of the scenery. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook

“I was thinking, ‘Oh cool, a bison!’ And then he looked up at me and started charging,” Neilson wrote in a Facebook post outlining his ordeal.

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He turned to run to a nearby cluster of trees for cover but lost his footing and fell a few metres from the trees.

On Thursday, Neilson told 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen that he was on all fours trying to crawl into the trees when he looked back and saw the bison coming at him.

“It was basically your worst nightmare, trying to run away from anything scary. The last thing you want to do is fall and then have trouble getting your footing.

“I could see this bison with his head going down and I’m thinking, ‘Oh crap. He’s going to hit me.’”

Neilson said the bison rammed its head into his butt and lifted him “up and forward with his horns.”

“All I was thinking was that he was going to stomp me afterwards but I was able to quickly scurry to safety in the trees.”

LISTEN BELOW: Craig Neilson tells 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen about his ordeal

Once Neilson was out of immediate danger, he began to assess his injuries. He said his butt hurt, but likened the pain to being punched really hard.

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“I feel again and I can feel this huge hole in my shorts and a flap of skin,” he said. “That’s when I knew it was serious and I wasn’t going to be able to walk back to the campground.”

Though Neilson had been jogging with his phone and headphones, he said he lost them through the whole ordeal.

Luckily he noticed some people who had stopped on the road to take pictures of the bison. He was able to get their attention and they headed off to the park gates to get him help.

At this point, Neilson said the bison had moved about 100 metres away from the trees he was still hiding in, so he decided to try and find his phone.

He was able to crawl out into the ditch and get his phone back. He tried calling his wife twice, but she was still sleeping so his call went to voicemail. Then he called an ambulance.

Craig Neilson in the ambulance after being attacked by a bison on Elk Island National Park. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook
Craig Neilson in the ambulance after being attacked by a bison on Elk Island National Park. Courtesy: Craig Neilson/Facebook

While he was on the line with the dispatcher, Neilson said he heard sirens approaching. He said the people who had left to get help came across a sheriff, who came to his rescue.

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Neilson said the officer was able to put some gauze on his injury to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, Neilson finally got in touch with his wife. The two were camping in their rooftop tent and he said she couldn’t fold it up because she is pregnant, so the sheriff went and picked her up.

The two were taken to hospital in Lamont, where the doctor told him the laceration was more than two inches deep and curved due to the shape of the bison’s horn.

“The only way I can describe the pain is it felt like I had been hit by a bison,” he laughed.

630 CHED has made multiple attempts to received comment from Parks Canada and Elk Island National Park but as of 5 p.m. Thursday, those calls and emails had not been answered.

Alberta Health Services confirmed EMS was dispatched to Elk Island on May 19 at around 9 a.m. Crews transported one man to hospital in stable condition.

A spokesperson for Lamont Health Care Centre confirmed to 630 CHED that a Craig Neilson attended their hospital the morning of May 19, but wouldn’t provide more information on his injuries.

Neilson is now at home recovering and figures he only has about six stitches. He and Amberly are anticipating the arrival of their baby next month.

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