An aerial survey taken of the wood bison herd in the Innoko River region shows that calves are finally being born in the wild – the first time in more than 100 years.
It has been over a century since wood bison, North America’s largest mammal, roamed the region surrounding the Innoko River in western Alaska. Biologists have been conducting a 24-year project to reintroduce the species back into the area. On April 23, the first calf born in the wild was spotted, followed a few days later by another newborn.
This is excellent news for both the herd and the species.
The wood bison herd was actually established at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to deem the herd “non-essential experimental” before it could be moved. Once this rule was published, 100 of the bison were moved to temporary pens near Shageluk, chosen for its good habitat for the animals, in late March. After an adjustment period, they were finally released into the wild.
With about 25 of the bison moved being pregnant, the two new calves spotted are just the start of what will (hopefully) be a new line of wild wood bison. Alaska Department of Fish and Game regional program manager Cathie Harms was ecstatic.
It felt like having a baby shower or something. It’s just huge. It’s like the completion of the circle. We finally got animals into the wild and they are taking to it tremendously.
Since the first two calves were spotted, four more have been born. Unfortunately, as this is an experimental herd, more than a dozen have already perished due to natural hazards.
However, Harms and the other biologists are certain that “natural selection is a difficult and challenging process for wild animals, but it ensures that only the strongest and best adapted animals survive to establish the next generation. Through the process, the herd will get stronger and stronger as the years go by.”
Continued efforts to grow the herd at the conservation center remain, where a group of 30 2,000-pound bulls still await their transportation. They are expected to join the rest of the herd in the wild in the next month or two.
To learn more about the wood bison, click here.