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Plains bison return to Saskatoon after more than 100 years

Plains bison back in Saskatoon after more than 100 years
WATCH ABOVE: Wanuskewin Heritage Park welcomes back Plains bison.

It has been nearly 150 years since Plains bison have grazed on the land where Wanuskewin Heritage Park now stands.

A partnership — which includes Parks Canada, Wanuskewin and Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. — has brought the animals back to the area on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

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Six female calves were brought in from Grasslands National Park to help establish the herd at Wanuskewin, as well as four pregnant females and a mature bull from Yellowstone National Park.

All the animals have pure Plains bison genes and will replicate the species that once roamed the Prairies.

“Bison almost became extinct. There were less than 1,000 animals in the late 1800s. They’ve come back, but of course, there are questions of genetic purity and all these sorts of things,” said University of Saskatchewan Prof. Ernest Walker.

Wanuskewin said the grasslands of North America are among the most endangered biomes in the world, and by bringing bison back into the fold, it will be able to restore native grasses and hopefully re-establish the species.

READ MORE: Wild bison back in Banff National Park

The park’s chief executive officer said bringing in the animals could help in its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will help provide world-class programming at the park.

“And the ability to draw people from all over the world to the park. Having a … species like the bison here is just a wonderful opportunity,” Darlene Brander said.

Wanuskewin also received a $5-million donation from the Brownlee Family Foundation which is going towards the conservation effort and making sure the bison thrive.

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READ MORE: Importance of bison to truth and reconciliation discussed at symposium

The park’s leadership said it has been thinking about bringing the animals back to roam the area for decades, but funding and administrative hurdles proved to be difficult.

“I’m sure our elders from the early 1980s, wherever they are, are smiling. We did it. We came through for them 40 years later,” Walker added.

The park is aiming to have a herd of 50 bison after a number of years.