The Power of the Old Beast | Photographing Alberta Plains Bison, Part I

by on October 16, 2011

There is something rather magnificent, powerful and nostalgic about bison. Once strong in the many millions, today these ungulates are conservation dependent and remain both threatened (COSEWIC) and extirpated (AEP) as a free-roaming species in Alberta. Numbers of the Plains Bison are holding steady, thanks in part to the efforts of Parks Canada and Elk Island National Park. The Plains Bison and the Wood Bison, also a threatened species, are considered to be semi-wild at Elk Island, as they are managed by the park as part of their conservation efforts and are not subject to their natural predator, the wolf. Coyotes are the largest known full-time resident predator at Elk Island National Park, and do not regularly prey on these larger animals. At least not on the healthy ones.

While these wild animals are often readily available to photograph at Elk Island, capturing them with your camera is not only a real treat, but can also be at times a hell of a chore and downright challenging at times. Bison are incredibly large and undeniably powerful and demand our respect. Let’s face it; while they are not a predator, they could still kick my arse many times over. I have spent much time in the field observing, documenting and photographing these great beasts. While I still have much to learn, I continue to be ridiculously fascinated by the behaviour of these giants and I’m wildly interested in the conservation efforts put forth to keep these creatures a part of our wild.


Small herd of plains bison during a summer evening at Elk Island National Park.

In the next two posts, I thought I’d describe some of the joys and challenges I’ve faced when photographing the Plains Bison, as well as some of what I’ve learned. Until then, I’ve included a small handful of images I’ve taken of these stupendous animals. Stay tuned and enjoy.
See you in the field!


Photographer. Podcaster on hiatus. Edmonton Oilers lovah. Cinematic Star Wars fan. Fond of wildlife conservation, animal rescue orgs, and all things Johnny Cash. Gen X. 

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