In 1890 there were only 750 bison remaining in the world. Today there are an estimated 500,000 bison, of which, only 3% are considered “non-commerical” and can be found ranging throughout national parks of both the United States and Canada. Surprisingly, back in 1906 the Canadian federal government had some intelligence, and purchased the very last herd of plains bison. A few of these animals founded the Elk Island National Park herd - which has been the source of most plains bison herds in Canada. In 1969, roughly fifty plains bison were translocated from the Elk Island population to Thunder Hills, just north of Prince Albert National Park, with the intention of providing an additional food source for First Nation peoples. However, the bison had other plans and decided to head south with about two dozen animals ending up in the park.
The small group of plains bison living in Prince Albert National Park steadily reproduced and by 2006 there were 400 wild plains bison in the park. Sadly an outbreak of anthrax in 2008 reduced that number significantly and today there are only roughly half as many plains bison inhabiting the west side of the Park. Worldwide there are an estimated 11,250 wild free-ranging and semi-free-ranging bison, and only 5 populations have greater than 1,000 individuals. Due to the incredibly small number of bison that have been responsible for repopulating current bison herds, there is a serious genetic bottleneck and today’s herds lack the genetic diversity bison of the 1800’s would have had. The biggest impact of this lacking genetic diversity is the susceptibility to disease and illness as seen in the 2008 anthrax outbreak in Prince Albert National Park.