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University of Saskatchewan awarded $6.8M for bison conservation research

A bison is shown in Wood Buffalo National Park in a handout photo. The status of Canada's largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly as a UN body has expressed grave doubts about plans to rescue Wood Buffalo National Park. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Belanger MANDATORY CREDIT.
A bison is shown in Wood Buffalo National Park in a handout photo. The status of Canada's largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly as a UN body has expressed grave doubts about plans to rescue Wood Buffalo National Park. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Belanger MANDATORY CREDIT. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Belanger

The University of Saskatchewan has been awarded $6.8 million to help conserve bison.

University researchers are working with livestock industry and Indigenous communities to develop the world’s first bison genome biobank which will place Canada on the global stage of animal conservation and production.

“I think one of the attractive aspects of this proposal is that it pairs together the traditional livestock production with something that is a wild species,” University of Saskatchewan team lead and reproductive biologist Gregg Adams said Wednesday.

“It can be produced as a livestock species or it can be revered as a conservation species — a keystone species culturally and ecologically.”

Read more: Bison study using Saskatoon synchrotron aims to encourage more Indigenous scientists

Adams adds that the collaboration with First Nations has been a rewarding and valuable aspect of the research so far.

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“This has helped us draw on the experiences and the culture and the expertise of First Nations,” he said. “Through this effort we’ve been able to make so many connections. We’ve had outreach to 17 different First Nations communities that are interested in bison in Saskatchewan alone.”

This funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will also help other threatened animal species and address challenges facing the beef industry such as antimicrobial resistance which poses a global threat to both cattle and humans.

“(Beef producers) are addressing these concerns about how (they) can make this sustainable — how (they) can make raising and producing beef something that’s good for the environment and good for the ecosystem… and enhance that,” Adams said.

“So I think it gives them new tools to address these challenges.”

Read more: Over 50 bison contained after escaping from Dalmeny, Sask., farm

Adams said this week his team is excited to see how many in their group of female bison have been successfully impregnated before they move forward in their current testing.

“We really finally have a way to address some really nagging conservation issues that have prevented us from allowing the bison to come back in the way that it should,” Gregg Adams, University of Saskatchewan. “And now I feel like we have a real opportunity.”

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