Grand Canyon National Park Bison Earn New Nickname, ‘Forest Ninja Bison’

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Outsiders are used to seeing Yellowstone National Park bison breaking headlines. They typically go viral online for having close encounters with some of the park’s most brazen tourists. However, farther south, Grand Canyon National Park bison are stepping into the spotlight themselves. The growing herd has recently earned the new nickname, “forest ninja bison.”

According to the Arizona Daily Sun, the animals have earned this unique nickname as wildlife professionals recently noted that these giant creatures are remarkably stealthy. Grand Canyon wildlife biologist Miranda Terwilliger says the name “forest ninja bison” was established by a group of skilled volunteers who aided in a 2021 herd management operation.

These creatures, the largest land mammals in the United States, typically weigh 1,000 pounds or more. Interestingly then, Grand Canyon National Park bison have been spotted moving through the ponderosa forests of the Kaibab Plateau more quietly than mice.

Terwilliger said, “They can walk through incredibly dense, dead, and down wood and not make a single sound. And they get one whiff of you and they’re gone.”

The wildlife biologist further recalled her first experience observing the ninja bison firsthand.

“We were stalking some bison and we were in a meadow. We were looking at this hillside above us. It was very wooded, and there was this little tiny patch. We watched 20 bison go through this one little opening between the trees. We had walked down that hillside and it was all dead and down, but the bison never made a sound.”

Terwilliger said the only thing that gave away the animals’ location was an occasional flick of the ear.

Grand Canyon National Park Forests Boast an Overabundance of Bison

Grand Canyon National Park bison are unique to their northern cousins for an entirely different reason. Compared to Yellowstone’s bison, those in the Grand Canyon lack an abundance of natural predators. These typically include wolves and mountain lions. As such, the Arizona population has exploded. On other occasions, this would be phenomenal. However, given the size of the herd, it’s causing a serious problem across the natural landscape.

Per the outlet, the bison population at Grand Canyon numbered about 100 individuals in the early 1900s. Fast-forward 100 years (give or take) and that herd, by 2014, had grown to an incredible 600 bison. Now though, while we’re happy to see the park giants thriving, it’s hurting the natural landscape, with the national park and surrounding region able to sustain just 200 bison.

Terwilliger said of the rapidly growing herd, “We knew it was going to exponentially explode. It was above carrying capacity, and it was creating damage to other natural and cultural resources.”

In their effort to minimize the Grand Canyon National Park bison herd to 200 from 600, area co-managers like Kaibab National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have put together a project named the Initial Bison Herd Reduction Plan.

Essentially, this plan sees park managers working with the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) to live capture excess animals and relocate them to tribal lands. Per the council’s website, this plan “promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development.”