The wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) or mountain bison (often called the wood buffalo or mountain buffalo), is a distinct northern subspecies or ecotype[2][3][4][5][6][7] of the American bison. Its original range included much of the boreal forest regions of Alaska, Yukon, western Northwest Territories, northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and northwestern Saskatchewan.[8]

Wood bison
Temporal range: Late Pleistocene–Recent
Bisó de bosc.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bison
B. b. athabascae
Trinomial name
Bison bison athabascae
Rhoads, 1897


The term "buffalo" is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two "true buffalo", the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, "bison" is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while "buffalo" originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts bœufs, meaning ox or bullock—so both names, "bison" and "buffalo", have a similar meaning. Though the name "bison" might be considered to be more scientifically correct, as a result of standard usage the name "buffalo" is also considered correct and is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American buffalo or bison. In reference to this animal, the term "buffalo" dates to 1635 in North American usage when the term was first recorded for the American mammal. It thus has a much longer history than the term "bison", which was first recorded in 1774.[9] The American bison is very closely related to the wisent or European bison.


In comparison to plains bison (the other surviving North American subspecies/ecotype), wood bison is larger and heavier, with large males reaching 3.35 m (11.0 ft) long including 54 cm (1.77 ft) tails and 201 cm (6.59 ft) tall at withers and 1,179 kg (2,600 lb) in weight, making it morphologically more similar to at least one of chronological subspecies of ancestral steppe bisons (Bison priscus sp.)[10] and the heaviest living terrestrial animal in North America.

The highest point of the wood bison is well ahead of its front legs, while the plains bison's highest point is directly above the front legs. Wood bison also have larger horn cores, darker and woollier pelages, and less hair on their forelegs and beards.[4]

On the other hand, plains bisons are capable of running faster and longer than bisons living in the forests and mountains.[11]


In addition to the loss of habitat and hunting, wood bison populations have also been in danger of hybridizing with plains bison, thereby polluting the genetic stock.

As with other bison, the wood bison's population was devastated by hunting and other factors. By the early 1900s, they were regarded as extremely rare or perhaps nearly extinct. However, in 1957 a herd of about 200 was discovered in an isolated part of northern Alberta, Canada.[12] This herd has since recovered to a total population around 2500, largely as a result of conservation efforts by Canadian government agencies. In 1988, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada changed the subspecies' conservation status from "endangered" to "threatened," where it remains.[13]

On June 17, 2008, 53 Canadian wood bison were transferred from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada, to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage, Alaska.[14] There they were to be held in quarantine for two years, and then reintroduced to their native habitat in the Minto Flats area near Fairbanks, but this plan was still on hold[15][16] until April 7, 2015.[17] In May 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule allowing the reintroduction of a "non-essential experimental" population of wood bison into three areas of Alaska. The new regulation took effect June 6. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game introduced the first herd of 100 animals to the Innoko River area in western Alaska in spring 2015.

Currently, about 7000 wood bison remain in the wild, located in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba.[18][19]

Return of bison to AsiaEdit

Wood bisons in Sakha Republic

In 2006, as part of an international conservation project, an outherd was established in Yakutia, Russia,[20][21][22] where the related steppe bison died out over 6000 years ago. Additional bison were sent from Alberta in 2011 and 2013 to Russia bringing the total to 120.[23]

As of 2019, the number of bisons increased to more than 210 animals and was partially released into the wild. To strengthen the restoration further, the Yakutia's Red List officially registered wood bison. [24]

Additionally, a team of Russian and Korean scientists proposed potential deextinction of steppe bison with wood bison in Siberia using cloning techniques. [25]


Publicly owned free-ranging herds in Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories comprise 90% of existing wood bison, although six smaller public and private captive-breeding herds with conservation objectives comprise roughly 10% of the total (n ≈ 900). These captive herds and two large isolated free-ranging herds in the Yukon and Northwest Territories all derive from disease-free and morphologically representative founding stock from northern Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories. These captive herds are particularly important for conservation and recovery purposes, because the larger free-ranging herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park were infected with bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis after 7,000 plains bison were trans-shipped by barge from Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, in the 1920s.

Diseases including brucellosis and tuberculosis remain endemic in the free-ranging herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park.[26] The diseases represent a serious management issue for governments, various local Aboriginal groups, and the cattle industry rapidly encroaching on the park's boundaries. Disease management strategies and initiatives began in the 1950s, and have yet to result in a reduction of the incidence of either disease despite considerable expenditure and increased public involvement.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gates, C. & Aune, K. 2008. Bison bison. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. <>. Downloaded on 06 September 2012.
  2. ^ Geist, V. (1991). "Phantom Subspecies: The Wood Bison, Bison bison "athabascae" Rhoads 1897, Is Not a Valid Taxon, but an Ecotype". Arctic. 44 (4): 283–300. doi:10.14430/arctic1552.
  3. ^ Kay, Charles E.; White, Clifford A. (2001). "Reintroduction of Bison into the Rocky Mountain Parks of Canada: Historical and Archaeological Evidence" (PDF). Crossing Boundaries in Park Management: Proceedings of the 11th Conference on Research and Resource Management in Parks and on Public Lands. Hancock, Michigan: George Wright Soc. pp. 143–151. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Bork, A. M.; Strobeck, C. M.; Yeh, F. C.; Hudson, R. J.; Salmon, R. K. (1991). "Genetic Relationship of Wood and Plains Bison Based on Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphisms" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 69 (1): 43–48. doi:10.1139/z91-007.
  5. ^ Halbert, Natalie D.; Raudsepp, Terje; Chowdhary, Bhanu P.; Derr, James N. (2004). "Conservation Genetic Analysis of the Texas State Bison Herd". Journal of Mammalogy. 85 (5): 924–931. doi:10.1644/BER-029.
  6. ^ Wilson, G. A.; Strobeck, C. (1999). "Genetic Variation within and Relatedness among Wood and Plains Bison Populations". Genome. 42 (3): 483–496. doi:10.1139/gen-42-3-483. PMID 10382295.
  7. ^ Boyd, Delaney P. (2003). Conservation of North American Bison: Status and Recommendations (PDF) (MS thesis). University of Calgary. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  8. ^ Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation
  9. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
  10. ^ Gennady G. Boeskorov, Olga R. Potapova, Albert V. Protopopov, Valery V. Plotnikov, Larry D. Agenbroad, Konstantin S. Kirikov, Innokenty S. Pavlov, Marina V. Shchelchkova, Innocenty N. Belolyubskii, Mikhail D. Tomshin, Rafal Kowalczyk, Sergey P. Davydov, Stanislav D. Kolesov, Alexey N. Tikhonov, Johannes van der Plicht, 2016, "The Yukagir Bison: The exterior morphology of a complete frozen mummy of the extinct steppe bison, Bison priscus from the early Holocene of northern Yakutia, Russia", pp.7, Quaternary International, Vol.406 (2016 June 25), Part B, pp.94-110
  11. ^ Semenov U.A. of WWF-Russia, 2014, "The Wisents of Karachay-Cherkessia", Proceedings of the Sochi National Park (8), pp.11, ISBN 978-5-87317-984-8, KMK Scientific Press
  12. ^ Douglas Main (July 15, 2015) Wood Bison Calves Born in Wild for First Time in a Century,, accessed 09 November 2019
  13. ^ Species At Risk Registry: Wood Bison
  14. ^ Canada Helps Restore Wood Bison to Alaska in International Conservation Effort to Recover a Threatened Species, Yahoo! Finance, July 9, 2008
  15. ^ Release of bison into Alaska wilderness put on hold again, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Aug 14, 2011
  16. ^ "Wood Bison - AWCC".
  17. ^ Video, Alaska Dispatch News
  18. ^ Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources - Northwest Territories, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources - Northwest Territories
  19. ^ Gates, Zimov, Stephenson, Chapin. "Wood Bison Recovery: Restoring Grazing Systems in Canada, Alaska and Eastern Siberia". Retrieved February 9, 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ CBC News, "Alberta bison bound for Russia", 14 February 2011
  21. ^ Edmonton Journal, "Elk Island wood bison big hit in Russia", Hanneke Brooymans, 5 August 2010
  22. ^ Edmonton Journal, "Bison troubles", CanWest MediaWorks Publications, 5 October 2006
  23. ^ CBC News, "More Alberta bison to roam Russia", 23 September 2013
  24. ^ Wood bison to be listed in Yakutia's Red Data Book
  25. ^ Cloning ancient extinct bison sounds like sci-fi, but scientists hope to succeed within years
  26. ^ Joly, D. O.; Messier, F. (2004-06-16). "Factors affecting apparent prevalence of tuberculosis and brucellosis nubs are amazing". Journal of Animal Ecology. 7 (4): 623–631. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8790.2004.00836.x. Archived from the original on 2012-12-18. Retrieved 2009-04-30.

External linksEdit