I’ve been cleaning out my manuscript files, and came across this little news piece. Since I wrote it in 2011, it’s not quite news anymore. But Google tells me that an additional 30 Canadian bison were added to the herd in 2013, and except for a minor incident with wolves, they seem to be doing fine. Enjoy!
This March (2011), 30 wood bison from Canada’s Elk Island National Park were loaded onto a plane and sent to Russian Siberia. Their new home, Lenskie Stolby Nature Park, is the site of a project designed to bring wild bison back to the steppes for the first time in 10,000 years.
The Park can be colder than -40°C for weeks at a time, but Greg Wilson, a biologist with Environment Canada, believes Canadian bison are perfectly adapted for life in Siberia. Since they’ve lived as far north as the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Wilson says, “wood bison have evolved to survive, and even thrive, in cold, harsh conditions.”
Biologists hope the bison will act as a keystone species by providing meadow habitat for birds and other mammals to use. That’s because bison eat tree saplings that might otherwise turn meadows into forests. Wilson says that, next to humans and beavers, “bison had the largest effect on defining the landscape of North America.” The same could be true in Siberia.
Which bison got to make the trip? Before they were cleared for takeoff, calves had to be checked for diseases and weigh at least 350 pounds. After that, Wilson says, “the bison chose themselves more than we chose them.” All biologists did was bait a corral with tasty hay and wait for volunteers to show up. And fortunately, these pioneers don’t get airsick. “At least,” Wilson jokes, “I’ve never heard any complaints.”