03 Aug Driving Safari: Meet the Bison at the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure
Hundreds of years ago, thousands and thousands of bison roamed the grassland prairies of central Manitoba, Canada. Unfortunately, due to overhunting, the bison population became all but depleted. Not only was this detrimental to the bison and other wildlife in the region, it was also bad for the grassland prairies. Just as the bison needs the grassland to thrive, the grassland needs the bison and other wildlife to truly thrive, as well. In an effort to save this rich and diverse ecosystem, Riding Mountain National Park started implementing conservation practices in the early 1900’s by creating a program to reintroduce bison to the region in the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure.
This program started in the 1930’s when 20 bison were reintroduced to the prairie. The Lake Audy plains were picked as the location because bison bones and markings in the region indicated bison had lived there in the past. Unfortunately, due to disease, the bison were not able to survive. In the 1940’s, another herd of 10 new bison were brought to the Lake Audy plain. Now, the 40 or so bison currently in the enclosure are descendants from those 10 bison that were introduced in the 40’s.
When we were camping at Riding Mountain National Park, we had the opportunity to join a couple of the summer programming options, one of which was the “Meet the Bison with Park Canada Driving Safari.” I’m always a bit skeptical when visiting animals enclosed in fences or zoos. But after learning about the enclosure and its history on our driving safari, I left with the understanding that it was created to bring back the ecosystem that was once thriving on these lands. The reintroduction of bison to the area is an important step in protecting and restoring the ecosystem of the prairie.
The enclosure is 500 hectacres in size (which means it’s pretty huge!), and it is divided into two sections—one for winter and one for summer. There is a fence around the enclosure, but it does allow for other wildlife to roam freely in and out of the area. The park tries to limit the disturbance of the fence to other wildlife, so they have created areas where animals such as bear, coyotes, fox, elk and deer can either jump over the fence or enter through a hole in the fence, which helps keep the natural order of the ecosystem intact.
You are free to drive through the enclosure at any time during the day on your own, but the animals are typically more active during the morning and early evening hours. If you would like to learn more about the enclosure, a tour with a park ranger is a great option. Our tour through the prairie met at the interpretive center in the Lake Audy Bison Enclosure. You need a car to reach the enclosure, and you also need a car to participate in the tour as you will be following the ranger in your personal car.
Once our group was assembled on the viewing platform overlooking the prairie, our park ranger told us facts and history about the bison in the region. We learned about the history of the area and information about the bison and the fescue prairie grasslands located on the horizon in front of us.
Then it was time to hop into our cars and tune our radio to AM to listen to the station where our guide would be narrating the journey for us. We pulled our car in line and joined the caravan to look for some bison. As we drove, we continued to listen to live narration from the ranger leading the pack.
When you are in the enclosure, getting out of your vehicle is prohibited. The only exception to this rule is if you are on the guided tour; then you can get out of your car and join the ranger for a closer look at the grassland, which is exactly what we did. We were shown a variety of wildlife growing and living in the grassland and it was great to get a closer look at an ecosystem we hadn’t thought much about before.
After looking at the intricate ecosystem that makes up the grassland, we returned to our car in search of bison. And find them we did. With the help of the ranger spotting the bison from the lead car, we saw one bison after another. Once our tour was complete, we decided to stay in the enclosure to do some more looking on our own. We broke off from the remaining cars in the group and ended up getting into a bison traffic jam.
We found an area where the bison were roaming on and next to the road so we slowed to a halt and just sat in awe observing the giant animals next to our car.
The driving safari was a fantastic way to get the inside scoop on the conservation efforts happening in the area. It was great to learn more about the native animals in the region before human intervention, and we enjoyed seeing the bison population as it starts to thrive once again. We absolutely loved getting a close up look at the giant bison as they roamed the prairie—it’s a wildlife encounter we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.