Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wood Bison

The wood bison is a northern subspecies of the American bison. I've seen plenty of plains bison, the southern subspecies, but the wood bison is limited to the far north, originally located in Alaska, Yukon, western Northwest Territories, northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan. In the early 1900s they were feared extinct, but then a herd of about 200 was found in Alberta in 1957. Through conservation efforts the total number has increased to about 7,000 today. 
Wood bison in the Alaska Conservation Center in a rainstorm. 

The very pronounced hump on the back.
In 2008, 53 wood bison were transported from Alberta to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center south of Anchorage where they were intended to be held for several years then introduced into the wild in Alaska. Because of red tape, the introduction had to wait over seven years. Finally, in 2015, 100 wood bison were released into the wild in western Alaska.
Wood bison in the Yukon Wildlife Preserve outside Whithorse, Yukon.
The wood bison is the largest land animal in North America, even larger than the plains bison, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. The high point of the wood bison is ahead of the front legs while the high point of the plains bison is directly over the front legs. Wood bison also have larger horn cores, darker and woollier pelages (fur or hair), and less hair on the forelegs and beards. 
This is a plains bison in South Dakota for comparison purposes.
This is a wood bison in Alaska. The mane seems less pronounced on the wood bison and it does seem to have more fur, particularly the rear portion, which makes sense given the more northern distribution. The hump also seems more pronounced.  The wild plains bison seem more muscular, but that is probably a function of the captive wood bison not getting the same type of exercise they would in the wild.  
We saw captive wood bison in both the Alaska Conservation Center and in the Yukon Wildlife Reserve. In Alaska I was near a pen and wanting to take a picture through the fence when a large bull looked up at me, snorted and then charged a step or two. That caught my attention and I quickly stepped back from the fence. They are big dudes. 
In the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.


  1. Imagine what a stampeding herd of these would have looked like. Scary. Their hump is camel-esque.

  2. Yep, I don't think I want to try to outrun one of those beasts.