Three Yukon bison die from slipping down an ice-covered hill

View from above of a dead buffalo on the hillside Photo by Yukon Conservation Officer Services

Conservation officers are saying they believe that three Yukon bison who were found dead last month were killed by a slip down an icy hill.

The bisons’ bodies were found on February 9th by contractors working near Aishihik Lake.

“From the tracks in the snow, it appeared that a herd of bison had been on the top side of a ridge and started working their way down the hill and began sliding,” conservation officer T.J. Grantham told the CBC.

According to officers, there was a heavy ice buildup — about 2.5 centimetres of ice due to rainfall and subzero temperatures. These slippery conditions caused the bison to slip down a 4.5-metre embankment, and then to roll a further 300 metres down the hill.

“We had that unusual weather pattern throughout the winter, and specifically up here in Haines Junction,” said Grantham. “There’s a thick layer of ice on those hillsides making things extremely slippery.”

Distant view of steep, snowy hill
The hill that the bison slid down was covered in a layer of ice from recent rain and subsequent freezing temperatures. [Credit: Yukon Conservation officer Services]
In a Facebook post, the Yukon Conservation Officer Services wrote that marks on the hill indicated that the entire herd slid down the hill, though apparently it was only fatal to three.

While we often think of animals as more capable of dealing with the cold weather than we are, it’s clear that extreme weather can pose a danger even to wildlife who have evolved to survive it.

“I think all the animals that are depending on those slopes are going to be having a tough time this winter — sheep, bison, deer — anything that’s trying to get through that thick layer of ice is going to be having a difficult winter for sure.”

However, Grantham said to find animals killed in an accident like this is fairly rare.

The officers left the bison where they were so they could feed other animal trying to make it through the winter.

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