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Bisons are back to Caucasus

After long years these amazing creatures are back again to the Caucasus within the project of WWF CauPO.

© WWF-Russia / Anton Agarkov

Reintroduction of European bison in the South Caucasus

The European bison, also known as wisent, is one of two extant species of bison, alongside the American bison. European bison were first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
Historically, the lowland European bison's habitat included the lowlands of northern Europe, extending to the Volga River and the Caucasus. In the Early Middle Ages, the wisent occurred in the forest steppes east of the Urals, in the Altay Mountains, and seems to have reached Lake Baikal in the east and Finland in the north.

© WWF Azerbaijan

Why it matters


European bison survived in a few natural forests in Europe, but their numbers dwindled. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly killed for its hide and to produce drinking horns. Despite protective measures taken by Polish kings in middle ages and Russian czars in the XIX century, only Białowieża and Northern Caucasus populations survived into the XX century.
European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild in the early 1900s. The last wild animals were shot by poachers in the Białowieża Forest in 1921 and in the northwestern Caucasus in 1927. Deforestation as well as the first and second world wars adversely affected the bison population as well. In 1996, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the European bison as an endangered species. Its status has since been changed to being a vulnerable species.

© WWF Azerbaijan

​What WWF is doing


In today’s Azerbaijan European bison was chosen as the icon species for the conservation for: (i) being a strong symbol for ‘wilderness’, as the Bison is also an essential species for nature; (ii) a great attraction for the public and therefore the engine of a new wilderness based rural economy; (iii) being one of the most threatened species in the world.

In August 2012 WWF Caucasus in co-operation with Flaxfield Nature Consultancy made two field visits to access the feasibility for bison re-introduction into Azerbaijan. As a result, Zagatala and Ismayilli regions were selected among 5 major potential sites.

The WWF reintroduction project in Azerbaijan has short, medium- and long-term goals. The short-term goal (0-5 years) is to establish two acclimatization zones that will function as a bison breeding center for Azerbaijan and as a show enclosure (visitor attraction) and to establish two (semi-) free bison herds (over 25 individuals).
 
The mid-term goal (5 – 25 years) is to allow the population to grow to over 500 individuals in the Greater Caucasus area.

The long-term goal (over 25 years) is to interconnect, through a solid network of protected areas, the different populations over the whole Greater Caucasus range in Azerbaijan and neighboring countries.

© WWF Azerbaijan

The WWF reintroduction project activities started with selection and transportation of 12 bison from zoos in Germany, France and Belgium to the Shahdag National Park in Azerbaijan. The next 8 animals are expected to arrive in autumn or next spring. It is planned to have at least 50 animals as a founder group.

The high level guests participated at the project’s opening ceremony on 18 May, 2019. Animals from the acclimatization area were released into the re-wilding area. 5 rangers are taking care of bison and will monitor them in the wild in future. 5 bison are collared with GPS collars to monitor them with VHF antennas.

Within these activities bison is expected to recover for the benefit of future generations in Azerbaijan and beyond.