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Wood Bison

Wood bison are North America’s largest land mammal.  They are easily recognized with their large head, shoulder hump and shaggy coat on their shoulders and front legs.  Their fur ranges from brown on most of the body to black on the head. 

Both sexes have short black horns.  Females’ horns curve to point to the rear while males’ horns curve slightly inward.  Males are larger than females and can reach weights of over 900 kg, stand 1.8 m in height at the hump and reach 3.8 m in length.

Wood bison are found in three populations in the Northwest Territories: the Mackenzie, Nahanni, and the Slave River Lowlands.  

Photo Credit:  Gordon Court

Bison numbers are estimated from aerial population surveys conducted in late winter. Bison can be classified into different sex and age categories by their size and horn shape.  These ground-based surveys are carried out in July.

Bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis are endemic in the Slave River Lowlands and Wood Buffalo National Park populations but the Mackenzie and Nahanni populations are free of those two diseases.  The Bison Control Area is a program to reduce the risk of disease transmission to the Mackenzie and Nahanni populations.

The Wood Bison Management Strategy for the Northwest Territories guides the development of management plans for each of the wood bison populations in the NWT. The management plans, developed in partnership with the Tlicho Government, Wildlife Management Boards and community stakeholders will contain objectives and actions to sustain and recover healthy wood bison in the NWT.

Wood bison are listed as a threatened species in Canada and a national recovery strategy is being developed.  Wood bison have not yet been assessed under the NWT Species at Risk Act.