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Bringing Bison Back: 100+ Brought to Alaskan Wild

Mar 25, 2015 12:20 AM EDT
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Bison once freely roamed vast swaths of Canada and south-central Alaska, rarely, if ever, seeing a human hunter. However, by the late 1900s the animals were listed as endangered in Canada, and had disappeared entirely from Alaskan lands. Now a state-side initiative is bringing the bison back after a decades-long hiatus in an effort to repopulate the wild with these noble beasts.

According to reports from local wildlife officials and The Associated Press (AP), the first of 100 wood bison - a subspecies of bison that once inhabited Alaska - have been delivered to Swagelok, a small rural village just outside of Alaska's vast Inoko Flats.

The first 30 bison, all juveniles only two years of age or less, were flown into the village Sunday, March 22, arriving just after noon. Along with 70 more which will be delivered over the next couple weeks, the young bison will be the pioneers for a new herd that will repopulate Alaska and make their home on the flats - a region where their ancestors once roamed.

The 30 juveniles also happen to be descendants of wood bison placed into captivity on the advent of the animal's endangered status in the 1970's - the newest members of a captive herd of about 135 which had been held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage as part of the state's wood bison restoration effort.

And the relocation of these young is the next step in that effort. The hope is that these bison will create a new wild herd - the first seen in Alaska in almost half-a-century.

"It's such an opportunity to go back in time and right a wrong," Mike Miller, director of the conservation center, recently told the AP.

In addition to the juveniles, 50 cows - 25 of them pregnant - are also being moved to the flat. Twenty bulls will quickly follow after that. And then, Miller and his colleagues hope, plenty of newborn calves will start to be seen. Biologists have long suspected that roaming herd beasts develope special connections with the land where they give birth, and the hope is that the Inoko Flats can once again become one such place for these bison.

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- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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