CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Bison calves have been born in Alberta's Banff National Park for the first time in 140 years, Parks Canada officials said on Tuesday, marking a milestone in attempts to reintroduce a wild herd to the area.
Conservation officers said three calves had been born since Saturday in the remote Panther Valley on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and that seven more were expected, the first such births in almost a century and a half in the area now making up the park.
Western Alberta is dealing with unseasonably cold spring weather, but Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, said the calves were well-equipped to deal with harsh conditions.
"Last night, we had 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm) of snow, but fortunately bison are very well adapted, so these little calves drop out, get their legs straight away, start nursing and do fine," Hunt said.
Parks Canada released a 16-strong herd of plains bison, including 10 pregnant females, in the country's oldest national park in February.
They are keeping them under observation until summer 2018, when the animals will be released into the full 1,189-square-km (460-square-mile) reintroduction zone after the females calve again next spring.
Bison herds of up to 30 million animals once migrated freely across North America. The shaggy, hump-shouldered animals, also widely known as buffalo, were nearly hunted to extinction in the late 19th century. Rangers estimate that bison have not grazed in Banff National Park since before it was established in 1885.
Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Peter Cooney