WILD EUROPEAN BISON WERE CAPTURED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS AND TRANSPORTED TO NEW HABITATS
What happened?Six European bison of the Arkhyz group left their native Republic and moved to North Ossetia. There they will join the youngest group of three in the Russian Caucasus – the Turmon group. WWF-Russia, with the support of the Ministry of Natural Resources of North Ossetia, began its formation in 2015 with the construction of a quarantine enclosure. WWF-Russia transported 18 purebred animals from the nursery of the Okskiy Reserve to the territory of the Turmonskiy Sanctuary in 2018 and 2020. The bison adapted perfectly and gave calves.
Why were the bison transported?
There are several reasons for the bison relocation from Karachay-Cherkessia to North Ossetia:
- Firstly, the Arkhyz
group has reached the optimal number for the territory where they live. Simply
put, it will be uncomfortable for more bison to live in the Arkhyz gorge,
especially in winter. Because of the snow, the animals have to go down from the
alpine meadows, and the exit from the gorge is blocked by the Arkhyz village,
and further territories are occupied by people as well. The employees of the Teberdinskiy
National Park with WWF-Russia’s
support feed the bison in winter to keep
them in the protected area.
- The second reason follows from the first. Due to the increase in the number of the group, animals are looking for new habitats. The males take over the search for new places. Such large animals as bison are looking for territories of correspondingly large size. And at the bottom there are fields and villages where bisons’ occurrence is not always welcome. Such situations can cause conflicts with the locals.
It was decided to capture several animals and relocate them to the Turmonskiy Sanctuary (where all the conditions provided for a large number of bison to live) in order to avoid excessive load on the territory and minimize conflicts between bison and people.
What is the uniqueness of the event?
The event uniqueness lies in the fact that bison were caught from the natural grouping.«It’s worth saying that the capturing of wild bison in nature was carried out in the North Caucasus for the first time. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Previously, animals were transferred to the North Caucasus from nurseries where trapping has been established for decades. In nurseries, bison are fed daily, they see humans more often and trust them more - says Roman Mnatsekanov, Senior Project Coordinator of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia – It’s first, very valuable and successful experience for us and our colleagues from the Teberdinskiy National Park, we will use this experience in the future. Given the complexity of the process we are ready to share aсquired knowledge with interested colleagues».
How was the transfer prepared?
Many months of work was done before catching and transporting bison. WWF-Russia and Teberdinskiy National Park built a trapping enclosure, hay storage facilities in the Arkhyz gorge, and purchased food for feeding bison in winter.
It was necessary to ensure that the animals entered the enclosure on their own. Therefore, after the animals went down the gorge, they were fed only in a trapping enclosure. Another difficulty is the choice of animals for trapping, because 10 calves were born in the Arkhyz group in 2022 - this is the largest number of calves in the last 10 years. All difficulties were overcome and at the end of December, the animals were closed in a trapping enclosure to undergo a 30-day quarantine. The bison were captured in special cages for transportation after the conclusion of the state veterinary inspector and promptly delivered to the Turmonskiy Sanctuary, where the release took place.
The next month, six bison will be held in a quarantine enclosure on the territory of the Turmonskiy Sanctuary, according to the requirements of veterinary legislation. The fenced area is 5 hectares. Throughout the month, the bison will receive hay, compound feed and rock salt in feeders, which the animals need to obtain minerals. However, the most important thing is that the enclosure is full of fresh blackberry bushes under the snow, which is the main delicacy for bison and which was not so easy to find in Arkhyz. The animals will be released into nature after passing quarantine and will probably join their relatives.
In addition, another replenishment of the Turmon group is planned in the near future. But this time the catch will be carried out from the Tseyskiy Sanctuary grouping of the North Ossetian State Reserve. These animals do not need to be quarantined, because they do not leave their native region.
Since 1996, WWF-Russia has been implementing a program to create a free-living population of European bison in the forests of the European part of Russia.
57 animals were transferred from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Finland and Belgium from 1999 to 2002. Some of them remained in nurseries to increase genetic diversity, a significant part was released in the Orel, Bryansk, Kaluga and Vladimir regions. There are 7 groups of bison created there.
In 2008, WWF-Russia started practical actions for the conservation and restoration of European bison in the Caucasus.
180 purebred bison live in the Russian Caucasus according to the census data of 2022: 36 in Arkhyz (Teberdinsky National Park), 117 in the Tseyskiy Sanctuary and 27 bison, including newly transferred ones, in the Turmonskiy Sanctuary. The planned census in February – March 2023 will allow updating these data (we are confident in the upward direction).
The Ardon-Urukh interfluve is the optimal place for the bison group to live. Over 300 bison can live here. Part of this territory has a nature conservation status – 12.6 thousand hectares are part of the regional Sanctuary "Turmonskiy".
In 2021, the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia adopted a Strategy for the conservation of bison in Russia, created on the initiative of WWF-Russia and calculated until 2030. As part of the Strategy, WWF-Russia is taking measures to increase the number of purebred European bison in the North Caucasus to create sustainable self-regulating populations of this relict.