Canada’s Coelacanth

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 22nd, 2008

What’s the old saying? There are no coincidences?

The province of Alberta is sitting on an ecotourism-cryptotourism goldmine, and they little realize it. Pondering a bit about the cosmic joke of a related little story in today’s news, out of New York State, I’ll post this before I pack a final few things.

I’m still in Alberta, although I’m leaving momentarily. A major side focus of my interest (other than dragons, cryptozoology, and mammoths) has been the wood bison here. I’ve already posted why I view this animal as significant. Let me push that to an even higher level by saying that I think this species can be viewed and used, educationally and ecotourismwise, as “Canada’s Coelacanth.”


Could a bunch of huge, hairy, hirsute giants, be living unfound in America? Well, the story of the re-discovery of the wood bison should give anyone pause for the fact it has already happened.

Without going to the Wood Buffalo Park, hundreds of miles north of here, and only accessible by plane, wood bison can be found within a stone’s throw of Edmonton, Alberta. Although it is a relatively rare species, you can observe the animal in the Elk Island park only a few miles east of Edmonton. A herd of 450 exists there, and from my experience, you can get rather close to them in your car. (They had a temper a bit more unpredictable than the plains variety, and you always want to keep your escape route in mind, if you are on foot in the park.) As the largest land animal in North America, having been rediscovered in 1959, they are intriguing, beautiful, and easy to go see. Don’t ignore them as mundane. Go see them.

During my visit, I have been able to see live specimens, museum mounted ones, and the Royal Alberta Museum’s back room fossil and modern skeleton collection of the species (or subspecies, depending on your point of view).

As I prepare to depart, and review the news of the world, what should I stumble across this morning? News of an escaped bison herd! And from an area I fell in love with in the late 1970s = Trumansburg, New York. I have explored Trumansburg extensively, for it is rich in Finger Lakes cryptid reports of aquatic monsters and large black felids. Anyway, here is that breaking news from one of today’s papers.

Liz Lawyer of The Ithaca Journal writes in the July 22, 2008, issue of how the “Buffalo roam in T-burg.”

Although not too cryptic or even about wood bison, I just find the timing some sort of cosmic joke. The lumbering animals appeared to be migrating north toward Trumansburg, from the Glenwood area. Police received reports of sightings and were chasing the animals up and down Taughannock Boulevard all weekend, according to the emergency dispatch center.

Paul Bart, a Trumansburg resident who lives near Taughannock Falls State Park, said people have been wandering off the trails near his home to tell him his buffalo are loose.

“But we don’t have any buffalo,” he said.

Bart’s son arrived home from the GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance around 1 a.m. Monday morning and rushed in to tell his parents there were two bison standing in the driveway.

“Yeah,” Bart joked, “you’ve been at GrassRoots, right?”

The number of missing animals hasn’t been confirmed, but Bart said he heard as many as 17 were spotted.

The bison reportedly escaped from Glenwood Farm, a family-owned farm that raises the animals organically for meat.

This is the second time this year the bison have made their escape, according to dispatch. In the spring the animals broke out and were missing for five days. They made their way up the railroad bed between routes 86 and 89 before being rounded up.

Several of the bison were sighted at Taughannock Falls State Park, with the most recent reports around 9 a.m. Monday, park manager Paul Thorington said Monday afternoon.

Thorington said the owner went with a truck to round the roaming beasts up, but wasn’t able to find them. Visitors have reported seeing the animals along the gorge trail, Thorington said, but all he’s seen are their tracks.

The only reason I assume the story is about plains bison is because, while in Alberta, I’ve learned that the plains bison is the one folks raise for meat. (Please pass the garden salad.)

The plains bison (Bison bison bison) is the species most Americans have in mind when they say “buffalo,” but Canadians are slowly beginning to realize the the wood bison (Bison athabascae or Bison bison athabascae) is worth noting as an extremely different animal with an interesting history.

I will share more stories I’ve learned in Alberta after today’s long, long flights. I say good-bye to my great visit to the Royal Alberta Museum. If you haven’t been there, and are local or visiting, go see the quite well-done exhibitions, the once in a lifetime Dragons exhibition (it is finished after this), and see how many wood bison you can find hidden throughout the exhibits. It is not an overwhelming number, but you might be surprised by how many are visible in the museum. After all, no one sees the wood bison if they don’t look for them.

Humm, there’s some sort of lesson in that.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

12 Responses to “Canada’s Coelacanth”

  1. shumway10973 responds:

    Are the wood bison as flighty and skittish as the plains bison? You said they have a nasty temper, easily riled, but do they stampede on a whim? I’ve heard stories of a bison ranch in Idaho (I believe) where the ranch is surrounded by an extremely large fence and every so often (don’t remember the distances) there are lookouts. Apparently these bison will have one start wandering and the rest will begin to follow. Unfortunately bison are suppose to be near sighted (hence why they the whole herd follows without any question), therefore if aunt hilda starts moving left because she thought she saw her favorite flowers, the rest will move with her. But because the rest is moving with her, she thinks, “Oh, I guess we are on the move.” And it only takes one of the bison sneezing or something to get them stampeding. So, at this ranch warning sirens will signal the hired help when the bison are on the move. The hired help jump into 4×4’s and atv’s and spend as much time as necessary to guide the bison away from the fence and tire them out. Remember bison are near-sighted, therefore they will not see the fence until right on top of it. Lead bison have been killed by those “following” because they didn’t see him stop at the fence. The native americans thought the bison could look deep into a person’s soul. Mainly because of the black, little, beady eyes they have in comparison to the rest of their body.

  2. planettom responds:

    Looking at the picture of the bison above, is that a head of another bison in the background, seen just behind the rear of the one in the foreground? Thought that was kind of funny. 🙂

  3. Lightning Orb responds:

    The Running of the Bison? I can foresee an accident waiting to happen. Could become a popular event, though.

  4. Rogutaan responds:

    What Shumway said is pretty interesting. Kind of like a Lemming’s Leap sort of thing.

  5. Richard888 responds:

    Why not Canada’s Okapi?

  6. LotaLota responds:

    Hi Loren hope you enjoyed your time in our fine province. Your bison on the loose story made me smile and remember when I worked as a ranger at the Oldman Dam Provincial park in southern Alberta. We would get the occasional call from a frantic visitor that we would have a bison loose in the park. Though they historical did exist in the area (the park is only a stone throw from historical Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump) they are no longer native to the park. One of the neighboring ranchers though did raise bison and he would have an occasional escape. All the locals knew who to call if you saw a big fury beast running around (on four legs of course). One time when I called, the poor out of breath rancher didn’t even bother with hello’s just a quick statement of ‘we know… were working on getting him back in’. Apparently some of the older males had a tendency to bully the younger males right over the fence. He even described them litterally physically pushing the smaller males and rolling them over the fence. Luckily due to the large reservoir, tons of fences (cattle country), the desire of the rejected males to get back with their herd and an on the ball rancher they never traveled far during my stint there and we had no reports of injuries.

  7. jamesrav responds:

    now why can’t Bigfoot pose as nicely as that bison? 🙂

  8. cryptidsrus responds:

    Interesting and funny little story.

    Glad to see these magnificent, majestic animals are still going strong.

    Also glad nobody used the often-used but wrong term “buffalo.”

  9. Ceroill responds:

    I seem to recall that there used to be forest bison down here in the 48 also, long ago. Seems to me there was an old tale of immense herds of bison doing in the occasional tree by the constant rubbing of moving furry flanks wearing down the trunks.

  10. Bob K. responds:

    When I was maybe, oh, six years old, my folks took my siblings & I to the Bronx Zoo. One of the animals exhibited there was a Bison. Just seeing that noble, beautiful, proud looking beast, standing there much as the one in the above photo, impacted me for life. Ever since then, the Bison has been my favorite animal.
    I can only imagine what a sight it must have been to see herds of tens of thousands of these magnificent beasts roam the American prairie. Thank God that these special creatures were spared from extinction so we can enjoy them today.

  11. Amdusias responds:

    Okay I have been obcessed a bit over this and the previous posting on Wood Bison, Loren. Using the model you have identified here, we should be able to place a spot for a good search, based on assumption, some good math and best guesses.

    Fact: A 2000 lb land animal CAN go unnoticed for at least 17 years, given habitat and a remote location.

    Assumption 1 – The further a cryptid’s habitat is from the paths of man, the longer it can hide.

    Assumption 2 – An intellegent primate should be able to hide in a smaller area than a bovine and/or be able to hide for a longer period than 17 years. (Based on the unstated assumption we all share, that he/she/it/they are actively hiding.)

    Assumption 3 – Based on number of reports, Washington State has a large (comparitavely speaking) bigfoot population.

    Leads to the hypothesis – Find the most remote areas of Washington State, as measured from roads and habitation, that also support woodland wildlife, and you have found Bigfoot habitat. This is probably obvious, but most of the searches I have read about or seen on TV are done in the area where one has been seen, rather than a remote area where they have not been seen.

    I have made my eyes blurry at Google Maps. Is there an easier way to figure out the 10 most remote areas of Washington State?

  12. sschaper responds:

    The American Forest Wisent went unrealized for a while because people assumed it was the plains wisent. (Wisent is English . . . 🙂 it means wise or white giant.)

    The same cannot be said of a large ape.

    The plains wisent historically was migratory. The great herd would travel south for the winter and north in the summer. The Transcontinental Railroad divided this great herd into the Great Northern Herd and the Southern Herd (sp., etc.? I’m going by memory here). As a result, domesticated wisent/bison are still instinctively migratory, and typically used to plow right through the fences and migrate. Around here, they don’t do that anymore, but I don’t know if that is learned behavior, or due to selective breeding, or possibly interbreeding with domestic cattle to produce beefalo. Their numbers are growing as the public desires leaner beef.

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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