Biologists carrying out their bison survey in Wood Buffalo National Park got a majestic surprise earlier this month when they spotted two roving herds of wild horses.
The two groups of five feral horses were sighted along the park boundary east of Fox Lake in northern Alberta on March 2, the first day of the annual aerial survey.
Stuart Macmillan, manager of resource conservation at the park, says it isn’t the first time wild horses have been spotted on a flyover, but said the instances are rare.
“I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it’s happened before,” he said. “Over the years, horses have been spotted in and out of the park. We’ve also had reports of horses north of the park in the Slave River lowlands around Fort Smith in the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
More recently, a single white horse was seen grazing near some bison in a meadow area during an anthrax survey north of Garden River in the summer of 2010. Another white horse — possibly the same — was spotted back in 2002 during a moose survey in the same area.
The park classifies them as feral horses, which have probably wandered away from farms or ranches and then survived in the wild.
“Every now and then people keep horses in this area and they get away, and they find lots to feed on and seem to do okay with wolves and everything, but it’s still surprising to see them, for sure. You don’t expect to see them,” Macmillan said.
Though not much is known about their wanderings in the park, Macmillan says they seem to get along fine with bison, grazing in the same areas. And because there are only a few spotted occasionally, they aren’t posing any complications.
“There’s no problem from a parks management perspective,” he said.
Parks has yet to see any other horses on its bison survey, which is just finishing up. The flyovers can take weeks due to the massive size of the park, which extends from south of Lake Claire, near Fort Chipewyan, all the way north to the Slave River lowlands south of Fort Resolution.