A big bison on the side of the road in Canada's Northwest Territories

It's a regal beast that roams the Northland – still king of its domain.

Once, its kin covered the prairies. Now, it endures only here.

And when you witness it – living, breathing, snorting, strolling, thriving, as in ancient times – you will be wilder too.

Here's 9 reasons why wild bison are a wonder of the Northwest Territories:
 

60 861f3291-603e-431c-8d00-4733654bb7fc
Wild bison on Great Slave Lake, in Canada's Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories is home to vast majority of the world’s wood bison. Before the 20th century, Canada’s wood bison herds numbered in the tens of thousands, roaming across the boreal forest from the Yukon to northern Saskatchewan. Now, the Northwest Territories is their key refuge, and by far the easiest place to witness them.

59 e08a094f-b51b-4cb2-8a51-90f0cf91c533
A big bison in Canada's Northwest Territories

A larger, darker, more lithe northern cousin of plains bison, wood bison are the biggest land animals in North America. Bulls can be six feet high at the shoulder, thirteen feet long, and tip the scales at more than one tonne. Females are much smaller, weighing up to 1,200 pounds.  

52 a990074f-ed8a-4f8b-b2fa-b167690b6280
A wood bison in Canada's Northwest Territories

Wood bison are dark brown to nearly black, with a huge head, a pronounced muscular hump, and a shaggy mane of soft hair on their shoulders and forelegs. Males' horns are short, dark and curve inward; females' are straighter. Both sexes moult twice per year, in spring and fall.

51 2ef169d7-6fdd-4e0a-8bd2-e491864726f0
A wood bison calf in Canada's Northwest Territories

It’s common to see newborn red calves among the herd. Their mothers, having been impregnated during the fall rut, gestate for up to 300 days before giving birth in late spring. They usually bear two calves every three years. Wolves are the baby bisons’ main predator. In rare instances, travellers have witnessed wolf packs stalking bison calves.

59 9818a479-c60c-42d0-bbd5-41b737397018
A wood bison on a highway in Canada's Northwest Territories

Bison congregate in three regions of the Northwest Territories. The most famous is Wood Buffalo National Park near Fort Smith. It is home to about 3,500 bison, commonly visible along Highway 5 and the Pine Lake Road. Bison can also sometimes be seen roaming the park’s surreal Salt Plains.

50 730e78bd-6348-4a31-9c80-e6fcd8b84d61
Bison alongside the highway in Canada's Northwest Territories

Another 700 wood bison inhabit the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary near Fort Providence. They are frequently seen browsing along Highway 3, or even lounging in the middle of the road. Indeed, travellers are warned to drive with caution, as crashes involving bison are not uncommon.

45 e0a65eb0-2f99-4320-8779-a1734aa3552d
Wood bison on the highway in Canada's Northwest Territories

Another 400 bison dwell among the rolling aspen-forests in the vicinity of Fort Liard; they are often spotted along the Liard Trail. 

24 b6cf5a84-18f7-49ed-b293-ef2a12e094a6
Bison in Canada's Northwest Territories

Bison are generally unafraid of people, and sometimes wander freely right in town. In the communities of Fort Providence and Fort Liard they often stroll the streets and browse in gardens. When they become too much of a nuisance, local “bison wranglers” on all-terrain vehicles shoo the animals out of town.   

55 818735e6-66da-4571-ae05-820e3e5f65f6
Bison near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada

Over the last decade, bison have expanded their range past Behchoko toward Yellowknife. A few years ago, one was even spotted near the Yellowknife golf course.

Learn more about the wood bison and other wild creatures of the spectacular Northwest Territories by checking out our wildlife- and nature-viewing tours and attractions

 

55 2853a095-e43f-4290-b594-25d070683d0d
The Northwest territories has big bison. No bull. 11 bd11c1c7-ec84-4cf5-b6a1-776fe5572706