The Ministry for Nature Protection of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) conducts ambitious projects on the biodiversity conservation and improvement within the framework of the State Program “Environmenal protection of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia)”. One of the most important projects is “Reacclimatization of Wood bison in Yakutian boreal forests”.
It is assumed, that Bison schoetensacki is one of the most ancient species among other representatives of this genus. During Pleistocene this animal inhabited the territory of present Yakutia. That time a geographic range of the ancient Bison covered almost entire temperate territories of Eurasia and Northern America. In Yakutia during the Early Pleistocene long-horned Bison – Bison priscus occurred, and later in the Late Pleistocene shorn-horned Bison – Bison deminitus appeared. Thus, during the Quaternary in Yakutia three Bison species occurred – B. schoetensacki, B. priscus, and B. deminutus, which belong to the same evolutionary branch and gradually replaced each other.
Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae Rhoads, 1898 L.) is one of the largest animals among present ungulates of Holarctic and it is well-adapted for survival in harsh northern climatic conditions.
Wood bison is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened species and is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, appendix 2).
Resettlement of Wood bison in Yakutia was discussed in the 1960’s. The Directorate of Biological Resources initiated development of the project on reacclimatization of Wood bison in Yakutia in 1996. The main aim of this project is reacclimatization of Wood bison in the wild for establishing a viable North-Eurasian population of this species on the territory of the republic.
Implementation of the project on reacclimatization of Wood bison in Yakutia was started in April, 2006, when the first group of animals (30 specimens – 15 females and 15 males) was shipped from Canadian National Park “Elk Island” to Nature Park “Lena Pillars” (Khangalasskiy Ulus). In order to accept animals “Ust-Buotama” Nursery for Bison was constructed.
Successful experiment on the shipment and adaptation of Wood bison became a great inspiration for all the participants of this unique project. In 2008 leading Canadian specialists Norm Cool and Hal Reynolds visited Yakutia. During this visit specialists had a chance to make sure that animals were in a good physical condition.
In 2011 and 2013 additional shipment of new groups of Wood Bison were organized. Every group consisted of 30 animals and was shipped from Canada to Yakutia by a direct cargo flight.
Wood Bison during shipping from the Elk Island (Canada) to Yakutia
Wood bison that were brought from Canada in 2011 and 2013 and new offspring from “Ust-buotama” Nursery are located at “Timpinay” Nursery, which is planned to use an initial place for releasing Wood bison into the wild.
Realization of Wood bison shipment to Yakutia on a regular basis is supported by the Ministry for Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation, Ministry of the Environment of Canada and Parks Canada. Video conferences with the administration of Elk Island National Park (Canada) are organized systematically.
Range expansion of Wood bison is an important step for the global restoration of this species. There are huge land territories and ecosystems in Yakutia, including unexploited and unoccupied northern grasslands. Among present subarctic large herbivores only Wood bison have a potential to thrive and feed on poor northern meadows that are represented by graminoids and sedges. “Ust-Buotama” Nursery has become an attractive and popular place to visit. Wood bison is an exotic species for Yakutia, and the number of visitors is constantly increasing. Today, the Nursery’s office is a perfect meeting point for scientific seminars and conferences, which are organized on a regular basis.