Wild European bison are returning to Great Britain for the first time in 12,000 years. The experiment is designed to re-engineer the English eco-system using the particular habits of the beasts. The animals are being introduced into a nature preserve.
European bison are cousins of the familiar American bison, often called buffalo. They vanished from England around 12,000 years ago after the disappearance of a land bridge with the continent.
According to the Irish Times “The aim is for the animals’ natural behaviour to transform a dense commercial pine forest into a vibrant natural woodland. Their taste for bark will kill some trees and their bulk will open up trails, letting light spill on to the forest floor, while their love of rolling around in dust baths will create more open ground. All this should allow new plants, insects, lizards, birds and bats to thrive. “
According to Rewilding Europe: “With fully grown bulls occasionally tipping the scales at over 850 kg, the European bison is Europe’s largest living wild land mammal. It once roamed across the entire continent (except for parts of Spain, Italy and northern Scandinavia), but sustained hunting and habitat loss saw its range continually shrink across the centuries. When the last wild European bison was shot in the Caucasus in 1927, there were only 54 European bison left alive, all in captivity.”
Since that time the population has rebounded, but the foundation stock was small so the genetic diversity of the species is still narrow.
Meanwhile, American bison have been expanding. In fact the population in Yellowstone National Parkis expanding. The expansion is not without challenges. Bison were cross bred with beef cattle and many herds are part domestic. Wild bison are being kept separate now to keep the genetic strains separate. Meanwhile, wild bison are subject to certain disease that can transmit to domestic cattle so care must be maintained to prevent that.