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Премия рунета 2017

European Bison

Home to Caucasus bison

What happened to the bison?

Bison is the only wild bull of Europe, which has survived to the present day. For most of the Caucasian peoples, the bison served not only as game object, but also personified the forces of nature, had traditional cult significance, it was worshiped as one of the symbols of his native land. Bison is an integral part of the deciduous forest ecosystems of the Caucasus, which shape the landscape inherent to the region. The restoration of natural populations of bison is one of the imperative conditions for the reconstruction of natural forestlands.

The disappearance of bison in nature was due to anthropogenic causes: habitat destruction (cutting and burning of forests, conversion of forest areas to agricultural lands) and unrestricted hunting. The last wild populations of this species were destroyed in the early twentieth century. It took about 70 years of breeding, first in zoos and nurseries, and then in nature, to increase the number of the world herd from 52 animals (1927) to 3,418 individuals (1993).

Russian specialists began to restore bison that has been exterminated on the territory of our country in the late 1940s. Two nurseries for breeding bison (in Prioksko-Terrasniy and Oksky Reserves) have been created in Russia, which reflects the history of nurseries creation. By 1991, on the territory of the USSR, there were already 24 free-living groups of bison with an overall of about 1,500 individuals, of which 569 were in Russia. By 1998, the number of free-living bison in Russia has fallen by almost three fold, to 185 individuals, due to almost uncontrolled poaching in the 1990s caused by the collapse of environmental services.

The state of bison population served as areason for its inclusion in the Red Book of the Russian Federation, where it is classified as 1st category — an endangered species.

© Alexey Bok
© WWF Russia
© Victor Lukarevsky
© Vyacheslav Moroz
© Vyacheslav Moroz
© Vyacheslav Moroz
© Roman Mnatsekanov

What are we doing for bison?

The Bison Preservation Strategy has developed in Russia in the late 1990s with the WWF Russia initiative. The strategy foresaw the creation of several large animal groups of 500–1000 individuals each, restoration of the natural population structure and identification of priority areas for reintroduction, including the Caucasus.

In 2009, WWF Russia has begun practical actions to restore natural bison populations in the North Caucasus. In 2011, OAO «North Caucasus Resorts» and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of nature conservation in the North Caucasus. This agreement made it possible, among other things, to bring in and release bison in 2012 and 2013. The coverage of the release of bison activities attracted international attention to the problem of restoring their population.

Difficult winter conditions and a small number of the Arkhyz bison grouping, for the preservation of which the fate of each animal is particularly importance, required the carrying out of biotechnical measures related to the feeding of animals in winter. The members of the WWF «Golden Panda» Club and OOO «Center-Soya» provided great help for this. The effectiveness of reproduction of animals depends on their physiological state, so the feeding of bison in the winter period contributed to the rapid growth of the grouping.

During this time, 36 bison were transported from the nurseries of Russia to the region. Currently, there are two pure-bred bison groups in the Caucasus: one inhabits the territory of the Tsei Wildlife Sanctuary in North Ossetia; the other is in the Arkhyz area of the Teberda Reserve in Karachay-Cherkessia.

In September 2012, WWF Russia and the Government of North Ossetia signed an agreement on the cooperation in the field of the bison population restoration in the republic. One of the goals of this operation is the creation of a third bison nursery in Russia (first in the Caucasus). To increase the number of bison in the Central Caucasus the creation of a new grouping in the Turmonsky Reserve is planned. The construction of a quarantine enclosure for bison with an area of 5 hectares on its territory has already been completed, which is now expects new settlers from the nurseries of Russia and Europe.

Plans for the development of free-living groups of bison in the North Caucasus are included in the draft of the new Bison Preservation Strategy in Russia. Priority tasks of this operation in the North Caucasus is to assess the capacity of habitats, to identify areas suitable for the formation of new bison groups, to ensure their territorial protection, and the import of animals.