Early explorers of the great plains described the landscape to be covered by large herds of buffalo (bison) -- literally thousands of animals stretching as far as the eye could see. It's hard to believe that just over a century ago the American bison had almost been hunted to extinction. It's estimated that 50,000,000 of them were killed -- some for food, some for sport, some for their hides, and some to make the lives of the natives who depended on them more difficult.
Thanks to preservation efforts, including the protection of hundreds of bison in parks around Alberta including in Banff National Park, bison have recovered to about 500,000 animals today.
Bison are impressively large creatures. A bull is as tall as a man and can weigh over a ton. They are the heaviest land animals in North America. Despite their size, they are surprisingly quick, capable of running up to 40 mph.
These bison were photographed at a large fenced-in enclosure in Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. This is located north and west of Calgary, on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in the shadow of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The area used to be home to a fort that was used in the fur trade.
When I arrived the bison were grazing at some distance. I waited patiently and soon they were not far from me and I could get some decent photos. There were about ten animals in the herd, including a few calves, with a massive alpha male. Several of the younger buffalo were very interested in me, but the alpha male was most concerned with consuming large quantities of grass.