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Government of Canada Confirms Third Transfer of Wood Bison From Elk Island National Park to the Republic of Sakha, Russia

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FORT SASKATCHEWAN, ALBERTA -- (Marketwire) -- 03/28/13 -- Editors Note: There are two photos associated with this press release.

Today, the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced that Elk Island National Park has provided an additional 30 wood bison to the Republic of Sakha, Russia. This third transfer brings the total number of wood bison in Sakha to over 120.

"The Government of Canada's commitment to conservation initiatives is not limited by international borders," said Minister Kent. "In contributing to a significant international conservation project, we support the continued survival and well-being of an iconic and majestic animal and ensure that bison still live in our world today."

Environment Canada and Parks Canada Agency have an agreement with the Republic of Sakha, Russia, to provide wood bison from Elk Island National Park to Lensky Stolby Nature Park in Sakha. Previous transfers took place in 2006 and 2011.

Russian representatives were in Canada to observe and participate in the selection and preparation of the bison. On March 21, the bison were flown from Edmonton International Airport to Yakutsk, Russia.

"From its earliest days to today's latest relocation of wood bison to Russia, Elk Island National Park has a long and successful history of caring for and safely relocating wildlife," said Alan Fehr, Field Unit Superintendent for Elk Island and Prince Albert National Parks. "Each transfer of animals is a celebration of their survival and a tribute to the work of many individuals."

In 1906, five early conservationists established Elk Park near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Elk Park became Elk Island National Park in 1913, Canada's sixth member of the Dominion Parks System. Plains bison and later, wood bison, were brought to the fenced park to establish disease-free conservation herds. Bison from Elk Island National Park have been provided to conservation areas across Canada and internationally.

Thanks to initiatives like the bison transfer, Parks Canada is a recognized leader in the conservation of Canada's natural and cultural heritage. Elk Island National Park celebrates its centennial in 2013 and has been recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for its nationally significant role in the preservation of plains bison in Canada. Over 200,000 people visit Elk Island National Park each year.

For more information on Elk Island National Park, please visit www.parkscanada.gc.ca.

Backgrounder

Elk Island Celebrates 100 Years as a National Park with International Bison Conservation Project - March 21, 2013

In 1906, five early conservationists - elk hunters who noticed a decline in the area's elk population - established Elk Park near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. In 1913, Elk Park became Elk Island National Park, Canada's sixth member of the Dominion Park System. From its earliest days to today's third transfer of wood bison to the Republic of Sakha, in Russia, Elk Island National Park has a long and successful history of caring for and safely relocating wildlife.

For millennia, herds of bison were, for the Aboriginal people of the North American plains, a source of life's necessities and a focus for their social and ceremonial life. By 1900, overhunting and the advance of the agricultural frontier brought bison to the verge of extinction; fewer than approximately 200 plains bison and 300 wood bison were left in the world. In the early 1900s, a few private citizens in the United States and Canada made efforts to save the species.

In 1906, the last large herd of wild plains bison, the Pablo-Allard herd, was sold by Michel Pablo to the Government of Canada and shipped to Alberta from Montana; approximately 200 in May and the remainder in September. The animals were sent by train in 17 freight cars from Montana, to Lamont, Alberta, where they were herded to their new home at the newly established Elk Park. Most of today's surviving plains bison are their descendants.

Plains bison are the better-known of the two sub-species, as the iconic "buffalo" of the prairies. Wood bison are the northern sub-species, a larger, darker animal that was found well north of the historic range of plains bison. Wood bison are listed as a threatened species in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Wood bison were brought to Elk Island National Park in 1965 as part of a strategy to rebuild the numbers of this species at risk.

Elk Island National Park is Canada's seventh smallest and only entirely-fenced national park. Due to an absence of natural predators, the bison herd within the fenced area must be kept at levels that preserve grazing habitat. Periodically, bison must be transferred out of the park in order to ensure that the habitat is not over-grazed. This creates an opportunity for Elk Island National Park to provide bison to conservation projects both here in Canada, and internationally. The wood bison herd has grown, enabling Parks Canada to provide wood bison to conservation projects in Yukon, Northwest Territories, northern BC, Alaska and now for the third time, Sakha in Russia.

In April 1997, a proposal was presented to Canada's National Wood Bison Recovery Team to introduce and establish a wood bison herd in Sakha. The renewal of a large herbivore population, such as the wood bison, would assist in enhancing the natural capital and biodiversity in the region. The wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) is the closest living relative to the prehistoric bison (Bison priscus) and closely resembles bison that occurred in Sakha as recently as 5,000 - 6,000 years ago.

In 2001, this project was acknowledged as an additional opportunity to secure survival of the subspecies in a geographically separate population as well as an opportunity for Canada to participate in an international effort to conserve a species at risk. The logistics and costs involved prevented further follow-up, until JSK Alrosa, a mining company from Sakha, agreed to provide its aircraft to transport the animals from Canada to Sakha.

In 2006 and again in 2011, 30 wood bison from Elk Island National Park were transported to Lenskie Stolby Nature Park in Sakha. This herd has reproduced and grown. A Memorandum of Understanding for the transfer was signed by the Government of the Republic of Sakha, Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service) and Parks Canada Agency In December 2012. On March 21, 2013, 30 wood bison calves (10 males and 20 females) were provided again to Lenskie Stolby Nature Park. For each of the three shipments, an Ilyushin IL-76 has been flown from Russia to provide air transportation for the bison (in trailers within the aircraft) from the Edmonton International Airport to Sakha.

While working with large wild animals is business as usual for park staff and for partners, each transfer is unique and must be carefully set up for success. Diligent herd management has resulted in the eradication of disease. A disease testing and treatment protocol for the animals and a veterinary health certificate have been agreed to by both countries for this export-import of bison. The bison have been weighed, ear tagged, tested for specific diseases, treated with antibiotics, and certified as disease-free based on the health certificate. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Parks Canada are integral partners; CFIA certifies the animals as disease-free for conservation transfers, including this March 21 introduction to Sakha.

While there is some risk in moving large animals over long distances, the transfer of bison for conservation initiatives is a risk worth taking. Safety of the wood bison is top priority for all stages of the transfer. Elk Island National Park staff has unique expertise and a long history in managing, caring for and handling bison and are assisted by a Parks Canada veterinarian. Animal welfare specialist, lecturer, and author Temple Grandin consulted on the design of Elk Island National Park's bison handling facility.

Elk Island National Park is located along the Yellowhead Highway, 45 kilometres east of Edmonton. Wood bison can easily be seen by visitors in the park area on the south side of the Yellowhead Highway which is dedicated for wood bison, while plains bison are maintained on the north side of the highway. The wood bison roam the hills and forage along the lakes and can be viewed from hiking trails and along the Park's boundaries. In the northern part of the park, visitors can view bison from the Elk Island Parkway or Bison Loop Road as well as from hiking trails.

Elk Island National Park is doing what it has done best for more than a century - supporting the conservation of elk, plains bison and wood bison, including this third shipment to Sakha. Today, because of initiatives like bison and elk conservation in Elk Island National Park, Parks Canada is a recognized leader in the conservation and preservation of natural and cultural heritage.

To view the photos associated with this press release, please visit the following links:

http://www.marketwire.com/library/20130327-Bison1_800.jpg

http://www.marketwire.com/library/20130327-Bison2_800.jpg



Contacts:
Maureen Shenher
Elk Island National Park of Canada
780-992-2964
www.twitter.com/parkscanada



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