Wood Bison

Wood Bison

Name

  • Common name: Wood Bison
  • Scientific name: Bison bison athabascae
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae

Also known as

American Bison, Buffalo

Viewing opportunities

  • Many Yukoners and visitors have had a close encounter with Wood Bison on the Alaska Highway south of Watson Lake, where a herd can be found along the road.
  • The Aishihik Wood Bison herd have become much more wary of humans since the hunting began in 1998. They disappear from sight into the forest when snowmobiles are heard during the hunting season.
  • The best way to see bison in winter is to look for recent tracks and follow them quietly. Look up at the hillsides and study your surroundings carefully with binoculars.
  • In summer, you will likely need to hike into the alpine to find the Wood Bison, although they can also be found in wet sedge meadows in low-lying areas along the Aishihik Road.
  • Bison are large, powerful animals that should be safely viewed from a distance.

Description

  • Large bovine with dark brown fur.
  • Distinctive hump of the neck ahead of forelegs.
  • Head has darker, shaggy fur.
  • Long beard hanging down from chin.
  • Both males and females have short, black curved horns.

Fast Facts

  • Height: 1.8 m
  • Weight: Males weigh around 950 kg and females weigh around 600 kg
  • Lifespan: 15 to 25 years
  • Predators: Wolves, bears
  • Habitat: Sedge meadows preferred, but also boreal mixed forest and alpine plateaus

Conservation status

What is conservation status?

  • Yukon: S3 (Vulnerable)
  • Global: G4T2T3Q (Apparently Secure/Sub-species Imperiled/Vulnerable questionable)

Yukon population estimate

1,200 to 1,300.

Behaviour

Herds are usually made up of a mixed group of cows, calves and sub-adults. Mature bulls are solitary or form small groups and will join the herd during breeding season. In summer, bison find relief from the biting flies by wallowing in sand pits and spending time in the alpine. In winter, Wood Bison use their huge heads and hooves to move deep snow aside to forage.

Diet

Grasses, sedges, willow leaves and twigs

Distribution

Wood Bison distribution map.

Sights and sounds

Wood Bison track.
Woof Bison track: 11.5 x 12.5 cm.
Photograph of a Wood Bison wallowing in a pit.
Wallow pit.

Wood Bison scat.
Paddies or pancakes: 30 cm.

Bison and people

  • Fossil records show that Yukon was once part of the Wood Bison range though they were likely no longer in this region 350 years ago.
  • Since 1980, Yukon has participated in a national recovery effort by reintroducing a free-ranging herd to the territory near the Nisling River.

Management Plan

Download the Management Plan for the Aishihik Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) Herd in Southwestern Yukon.