Wood Buffalo National Park
In 1954 a pilot fighting a forest fire in the Northwest Territories looked down and discovered one of the natural world’s most significant and hitherto secret places—the nesting site of the rare majestic whooping crane. It was deep inside a tract of wild impenetrable muskeg larger than Denmark in Wood Buffalo National Park.
He instantly recognized the glistening scarlet-crowned pair of snow-white birds and their chick. Once seen, they are unforgettable—five feet (1.6 m) high, North America’s tallest bird, with wingspreads up to eight feet (2.6 m)—unchanged since they evolved with the saber-toothed cat. Their bugling cry from yard-long (1 m) windpipes can be heard for miles. Formerly they nested across the continent. A number of factors, some natural, some human-caused, reduced their numbers to 15 in 1941 and scientists predicted their imminent extinction. But with protection here and elsewhere, on their Texas gulf coast wintering grounds and along their peril-fraught 2,500-mile (4,300-km) migration route, there are now more than 400 including 40 breeding pairs, and the outlook is more encouraging.
Wood Buffalo, largest park in Canada and one of the largest in the world (17,295 square miles/44,807 km2), was created in 1922 to protect one of the world’s last free-roaming herds of wood bison which now numbers some 2,500. Its subarctic wilderness of boreal forest, sand dunes, shallow lakes, marshes, and meandering tree-lined streams contains the largest undisturbed grass and sedge meadows in North America.
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