This has been a big year for some of North America’s most iconic large mammals and the captive breeding facilities that are working to conserve them in nature. Bison are bouncing back from the brink of extinction as apart of restoration efforts in both Alaska and the Lower 48.
The two living bison subspecies in North America, the wood bison and the plains bison are actually the largest terrestrial mammals in the Western Hemisphere. The wood bison was extirpated from Alaska in the latter part of the 19th Century. Thanks to a carefully managed captive breeding program at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a rewilding program for these magnificent bovids has so far been a success. Under the auspices of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in coordination with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the AWCC bred and raised well over 100 head of wood bison from a few founder stock that were imported from Canada over a decade ago.
Wood bison are now free-ranging again in the United States and efforts may continue to augment this new founder population in Alaska. The animals were soft-released earlier this year into the Interior of the state as part of a monumental reintroduction program for the bison subspecies.
Wood bison are slightly larger and more well adapted to the northern clime, than their southern cousins the plains bison. In total, 130 bison representing all age classes and both sexes were released into the Interior after being transported on a barge along the Tanana, Yukon, and Innoko Rivers. Since the release was executed, 15 bison calves have been born in the wild.
And just this week 11 genetically pure plains bison were released into an enclosure in a state park near Mankato, Minnesota. The reintroduction project was part of a collaboration between the Minnesota Zoo and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The effort to augment the state population of plains bison, which were first reintroduced to Minnesota in 1961, after an absence of 81 years, is a testament to continued efforts to restore North America with these magnificent ungulates.
For more information on the wood bison reintroduction effort, visit this earlier post by Dr. Schaul on the National Geographic website: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2011/02/14/project_to_return_wood_bison_to_alaska/
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