Biggest bison transport ever

October 9, 2012

The bison that were released in June in the Cantabrian Mountains in Northern Spain are adapting very well to their new surroundings. They are gaining weight and building up fat reserves for the coming winter. They seem to browse a lot in their new surroundings and cope well with the warmer climate.

The bison were released on June 8 under a lot of local and media attention. This was a special day for all the people involved, as it marked the return of the bison to an area where they have been missing from the ecosystem for centuries. The bison lived in Asturias until the late Middle Ages. Evidence of bison presence can still be found in the famous Altamira and many other caves with beautiful cave paintings of bison.

Local people were very emotional to see the bison released, some of them had their eyes filled with tears. It was also emotional for myself as it marked the success of 1,5 years hard work in finding a new home for these 17 bison and coordinating this operation. This was the biggest transport of European bison ever. Even though there are only a few thousands animals and the bison is still a threatened species, surplus animals are still culled in captivity due to lack of sufficient re-introduction projects and funding. The same fate was waiting for these animals if no action was taken. Luckily, thanks to co-operation with the director of the European Bison Breeding Centre of Spain, Fernando Moran, new homes for the bison and funding for the transport could be found in the Cantabrian Mountains, one of the Rewilding Europe nomination areas.

Six bison were released in a 200-hectare enclosure in San Cebrián de Mudá, Castilla y León, where they joined another eight bison. Four were released in a new small breeding centre at Sierro, Asturias, close to Oviedo. 7 were released in a big property of 2.000 hectare at Villayón, Asturias. In this property, EBBC of Spain built a first release area of 130 ha for adaptation. This autumn the bison will be released into the surrounding 2.000 ha. This is a very important step for the bison as this area is expected to carry more than 100 of them in the future and the area can be enlarged further.

The bison had travelled more than 2.000 km from the Lelystad Nature Park in the Netherlands, who kindly provided these animals. Some animals were temporarily accommodated at Han-sur-Lesse Wildlife Park. Both parks supported the re-introduction in kind.

The Cantabrian Mountains are a good example of land abandonment as young people are moving out of the area. Bush encroachment is happening rapidly as livestock numbers are dropping. The return of the bison as keystone species is important for the ecosystem and helps prevent forest fires in this region. Local people have welcomed the bison, not only as a long lost child returning home, but also as the return of the bison symbolises the beginning of new job and livelihood opportunities, related to rewilding, wilderness and wildlife.

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