Many people have no idea there are bison living in Arizona, much less in the Grand Canyon National Park. Viewed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the iconic canyon stretches 227 miles in length and averages more than ten miles across.
Each year the attraction draws visitors from all over the globe, but seldom (if ever) are bison seen as backdrops to vacationers’ travel photos. Commonly identified as plains creatures, where they’re known for idyllically munching on tall grasses in places like South Dakota or any of the three states Yellowstone National Park falls within, you might wonder how they got there.
Bison, Not Buffalo
Back in the early 1900s, entrepreneur Charles “Buffalo” Jones introduced approximately 100 bison to the area as part of a crossbreeding experiment with cattle. Bison, by the way, are not buffalo (a common misconception), but they are part of the bovid family.
Unfortunately, the animals can wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems, much like wild horse herds. When either group gets too large, they are thinned and relocated, which is exactly what is going on with the Grand Canyon herd.
Thriving in the environment, biologists are worried that if left unchecked, their numbers could soon swell to between 1,200 to 1,500 from the more than 600 living in the park today.
Grand Canyon Partnering with Native American Tribes
Concerned with those projections, the park’s wildlife managers feel that 200 animals would be more in line with the health of the landscape. Without the constant threat of natural predators to keep the population down — such as wolves, mountain lions, or bears — relocation is the answer they’ve arrived at.
Partnering with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the park service announced the transfer of 58 bison from the canyon’s North Rim to nearby Native American tribes. They included the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. And it’s not the first transfer to take place.
Wildlife in the Americas
The partnership and relocation of the “Forest Ninja Bison” has been going on since 2018, when wildlife officials transferred 182 bison to eight different tribes across the nation.
They’ve been referred to as ninjas due to their stealthy movements as they silently traverse the landscape, presumably in an effort to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
According to Grand Canyon wildlife biologist Miranda Terwilliger, they can walk through extremely dense, dead, and downed wood without making a sound. As the park’s bison project lead, she told the Arizona Daily Sun that even so much as a whiff of a human is enough to make them disappear.
Adapting to the Environment
In addition to the stealth factor, bison within the Grand Canyon National Park appear to have worked out for themselves just where the park’s boundaries begin and end.
Those borders are important to note if you’re trying to dodge hunters eager for a trophy. The bison have been observed crossing those boundaries in search of water and then hightailing it back into the safety of the park at an accelerated pace, as compared to their usual hundred-meter mosey.
Like most animals, they are far more aware and evolved than humans give them credit for. Long may they thrive.
This article by Rebecca West was first published by The Animal Rescue Site.
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