BANFF, Alta. — Bison are once again grazing along the remote eastern slopes of Banff National Park after a more than century-long absence.
Parks Canada announced Monday it has moved 16 of the animals to the mountainous landscape that vast herds of the species once roamed for thousands of years.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the historic moment is the perfect way to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
"By returning plains bison to Banff National Park, Parks Canada is taking an important step towards restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to the park's ecosystems while providing new opportunities for Canadians and visitors to connect with the story of this iconic species,'' she said in a release.
Earlier this year, 16 healthy bison — mostly pregnant two-year-olds — were picked for the $6.4-million project.
Before they were moved from Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, the ruminants were quarantined for three weeks for health testing.
Once they were deemed disease free, the beasts were driven 400 kilometres in custom-modified shipping containers on trucks to just outside Banff.
Wild bison take their first steps in their new home in Banff National Park in Alberta in this February 1, 2017 handout photo. (Photo: Dan Rafla/Parks Canada)
The crates were hoisted up by a helicopter and flown to a pasture inside the park, where the bison were released.
The herd will be penned in the pasture for about 16 months and closely monitored by Parks Canada staff.
The bison are to be released in the summer of 2018 into an 1,200-square-kilometre zone, reclaiming their historic role in the ecosystem.
Check out more photos from their release in the slideshow below: