It is known that in the 7th to 10th centuries AD Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) still occurred in the Cis-Baikal and Altai regions. And the radiocarbon data indicate that 3,000 years ago Bison was still abundant in the north-eastern Siberia. The zoologist K.K. Flerov believes that exactly those bison had been identical to the Wood Bison that currently occur in Canada.
A close cooperation between Canada, Alaska and Russia lead to the re-introduction of the Wood Bison. Dr. Taras Sipko, a specialist on Wood bison and working for the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences is strongly involved in this project. These animals have been brought back to the region where their ancestors used to live.
The Alaskan and Siberian initiatives are particularly important to Wood Bison conservation in view of the limited availability of habitat for Wood Bison in Canada, and the risk of infection of some Canadian herds with cattle diseases. They represent additional opportunities to secure the survival of the subspecies in geographically separate populations and to augment Canada's participation in international efforts to conserve species at risk and encourage sustainable development.
At the same time the project offers the potential to contribute to future sustainable economic development based on hunting, tourism, and meat production.
In 2006, a group of 30 Wood Bison arrived to Yakutsk on board of an IL-76 freighter. These animals came from the Elk Island National Park in Canada.
The newly arrived bison were transported to open-air enclosures in the Lena Pillars Nature Park, 120 km away from the airport, for breeding. All the hardships in the adaptation and acclimatization of the animals have been successfully overcome.
In 2008 six calves were born, seven in 2009 and another eight the year after.
The first group of Wood Bison were relocated to an uninhabited are in the middle course of the river Siniaia, 200 km south of Yakutsk. Plans are underway to import yet another group of Wood Bison from Canada.
Various forms of the genus Bison have been important faunal elements in north-western North America and Siberia for at least 400,000 years. The Bering Land Bridge geographically linked these regions during the late Pleistocene. There is some evidence that hunting by humans played a central role in the history of northern bison, first in Siberia where bison were extirpated during the past 2000 years, then in North America where only remnant populations remained at the end of the 19th century.
The reasons for the disappearance of bison from eastern Siberia (western Beringia) are not known with certainty. The Pleistocene overkill hypothesis suggests that human hunting caused or contributed to the extinction of various large mammals during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Other human activities such as livestock farming and artificial fires in the forest are thought to play an important role in Bison extirpation as well.
Climatic and environmental change and human hunting
Some combination of climatic and environmental change and human hunting probably led to the extinction of the Pleistocene grazers and a decline in associated grassland vegetation. Based on the historical record, there is no way to determine whether a climate-induced change in vegetation, combined with hunting, caused extinction of the megafauna, or the loss of the megafauna as a result of human hunting led to the change in vegetation. However, recent research provides support for the concept that megafauna played an important role in maintaining grassland vegetation during the Pleistocene, just as African grazers currently play a key role in maintaining the savannahs of Africa.
Hear more about this project in the radio programm from Radio Canada International: Canadian bison flourish in Siberia
This text has been written based on the text of Taras Sipko, and with help of the article about Wood Bison Recovery: Restoring Grazing Systems in Canada, Alaska and Eastern Siberia.
For the sake of easy reading the scientific references have been removed from this text. For scientific references please read the full article by clicking on above link.