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Relocating Grand Canyon Bison

Multiple agencies collaborate to relocate bison from Grand Canyon North Rim

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — National Park Service staff closed the doors on livestock trailers Wednesday, securing 31 bison inside to transfer them to the InterTribal Buffalo Council, who will take them on the journey to join their new herd with the Quapaw tribe in Oklahoma.

The transfer of the bison concluded the Grand Canyon National Park’s pilot program for corralling and relocating bison from the North Rim and involved biologists from multiple agencies.

North Rim Buffalo

The goal of the pilot program was to capture and relocate up to 100 bison. The program was conducted this year due to the bison migrating to a warmer location on the North Rim from early snowfall last year. There are approximately 600 bison on the North Rim, and Grand Canyon National Park is reducing the size to under 200 over the next three to five years to protect park resources from the impacts of the bison population.

“It’s an historic moment. These are the first bison ever captured and permanently removed from Grand Canyon,” Grand Canyon National Park Bison Project manager Miranda Terwilliger said in a press release.

Leading up to the corralling operations, a corral was regularly supplied with food and water to encourage bison to enter freely and increase their exposure to humans.

“It’s a passive process,” said Chris Clark, the South Rim lead mule packer who served as the corral boss. “You want to work as quietly and calmly around the bison to keep their stress levels down because they have very little interactions with humans.”

Grazing Canyon Bison

After a large group of bison entered the corral during the operation period, staff closed the corral gates and began processing them in preparation for shipment. The processing included separating and releasing bison that were too young, old or large to make the trip. They were guided into a squeeze chute, where the scientists took blood and genetic samples and tagged them per U.S. Department of Agriculture shipping regulations.

“We had an amazing team who worked really well together,” Terwilliger said. “We did a lot of mock runs and training in advance with other parks and agencies.”

Biologists from the Kaibab National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, Badlands National Park, the U.S. Geological Survey and the InterTribal Buffalo Council assisted. Also present was a National Park Service veterinarian to oversee the well-being of the bison.

Several additional animals were outfitted with tracking collars and released during the corralling process. The collaring was conducted with the assistance of U.S. Geological Survey scientists for park wildlife biologists to study the bison migratory patterns and population size.

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