Earlier this month, officials took down a fence allowing the first herd of European bison (Bison bonasus) to enter the forests freely in Germany in over 300 years, reports Wildlife Extra. The small herd, consisting of just eight animals (one male, five females and two calves) will now be allowed to roam unhindered in the Rothaar Mountains as their ancestors did long ago.
The eight European bison, also known as the wisent, had been held in a 88 hectare (220 acre) pen for three years, while researchers conducted studies and meetings were held over their potential release. Released in the Rothaar Mountains near Bad Berleburg, the bison will find themselves in Germany’s most populated state, North Rhine-Westphalia. Experts, who say the bison pose no danger, hope in time that the population will expand to around 25 animals.
European bison once roamed across Europe and northern Asia. However large-scale deforestation along with hunting decimated their numbers until by the 1920s, the animal was extinct in the wild. Reintroductions of the European bison began in the 1950s and animals can now be found in 10 countries, but Germany is the first western European nation to see the bison again.
The European bison has also been re-introduced into Pleistocene Park in northern Siberia, a protected area that is conducting an experiment to see if the re-wilding of lost megafauna, such as bison, turns the ecosystems back into the steppe environment, which covered the region during the Pleistocene epoch.
Today around 1,800 European bison live in the wild, all of them stemming from a captive population of only 54 animals. The species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.
European bison in German game park. Photo by: Michael Gäbler.
(03/18/2013) Gaur (Bos gaurus gaurus) is one of the large wild ungulates of Asian jungles. It is the tallest living ox, and one of the four heaviest land mammals (elephant, rhino and wild buffalo are the other three), weighing up to 940 kilograms (2,070 pounds) and standing between 1.6 and 1.9 meters (5.2 to 6.2 feet) at the shoulder. Gaur were once distributed throughout the forested tracts of India and South Nepal, east to Vietnam and south to Malaya. Today, however, they are confined to just over a hundred existing, and 27 proposed, Protected Areas in India.
(11/01/2012) In 1996 scientists discovered a new species of dwarf toad: the Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis). Although surviving on only two hectares near the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania, the toads proved populous: around 17,000 individuals crowded the smallest known habitat of any vertebrate, living happily off the moist micro-habitat created by spray from adjacent waterfalls. Eight years later and the Kihansi spray toad was gone. Disease combined with the construction of a hydroelectric dam ended the toads’ limited, but fecund, reign.
(08/21/2012) In March of this year the Elwha Dam, which had stood for 99 years, was demolished in the U.S. state of Washington. Five months later, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) made their way down 70 miles of long-blocked off habitat and entered Olympic National Park.
(02/27/2012) Less than a year after being pulled off the Endangered Species Act (ESA), gray wolves (Canis lupus) in the western U.S. are facing an onslaught of hunting. The hunting season for wolves has just closed in Montana with 160 individuals killed, around 75 percent of 220-wolf kill quota for the state. In neighboring Idaho, where 318 wolves have been killed so far by hunters and trappers, the season extends until June. In other states—Oregon, Washington, California, and Utah—wolf hunting is not currently allowed, and the species is still under federal protection in Wyoming.
(08/31/2011) In 2000 the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) was listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). While remaining stable in Canada and Alaska, the Canada lynx population had essentially collapsed in much of the continental US, excluding Alaska. Aside from habitat loss, one of the main factors imperiling the medium-sized wild cat was a decline in prey, specifically snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus). Researchers have now come up with an innovative way to aid hungry lynx in the US: wolves.
(07/14/2011) Worldwide wolf populations have dropped around 99 percent from historic populations. Lion populations have fallen from 450,000 to 20,000 in 50 years. Three subspecies of tiger went extinct in the 20th Century. Overfishing and finning has cut some shark populations down by 90 percent in just a few decades. Though humpback whales have rebounded since whaling was banned, they are still far from historic numbers. While some humans have mourned such statistics as an aesthetic loss, scientists now say these declines have a far greater impact on humans than just the vanishing of iconic animals. The almost wholesale destruction of top predators—such as sharks, wolves, and big cats—has drastically altered the world’s ecosystems, according to a new review study in Science. Although researchers have long known that the decline of animals at the top of food chain, including big herbivores and omnivores, affects ecosystems through what is known as ‘trophic cascade’, studies over the past few decades are only beginning to reveal the extent to which these animals maintain healthy environments, preserve biodiversity, and improve nature’s productivity.