Wild Bison Are Returning to England’s Forests For First Time in 6,000 Years

A relative of the iconic beast that roams the American Great Plains is going to be released in an ancient forest in Kent, England—where they haven’t resided for 6,000 years.

But the four animals won’t be arriving by way of South Dakota or Wyoming because Europe has their own subspecies—the European wood bison.

The project is slated to begin in Spring of 2022, when a single male Bison bonasus and three females arriving from Poland and the Netherlands will be allowed to roam and reproduce naturally in the remaining wilds of Britain—and it is hoped that their presence will ignite a chain reaction throughout the forest.

Bison have the power to change a forest in dramatic ways; ways that humans don’t have the time or manpower for, and they are being considered as a possible solution to species loss in Great Britain.

The project called Wilder Blean, named for the reintroduction site, West Blean Woods, was organized by the Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT). The experiment isn’t just about bringing the bison back for the sake of something to look at, it’s part of a controlled trial to see if the large herbivore can reinvigorate forest ecosystems more productively than conservationists.

“European bison are being used in this project because they are ecosystem engineers, meaning that they are able to change their environment through their natural behaviors,” explains the KWT on their website. “Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can.”

WATCH: 800-Pound Bison Performs Adorable ‘Happy Dance’ in Celebration of the First Day of Spring

Once ranging across the continent since the last Ice Age, European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild, but have since been reintroduced from captivity into several countries—mostly the forests of Poland, with smaller populations spread out across eastern and southern Europe.

European bison in Germany – Michael Gäbler, CC license

Known as a keystone species, similar to krill in the ocean, tigers in India, or bees in a meadow, bison provide services that allow the ecosystems they live in to operate at a much higher capacity in terms of ecosystem activity. In conservation terms, a keystone species is one that plays a role in the preservation of other species, and the ecology as a whole.

Bison are the forestry experts

Bison kill weak or dead trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter fur. This turns the tree into food and habitat for insects, which in turn provide food for birds. The resulting pocket of sunlight allows new plants to grow, replenishing the woodland.

In an unexpected way, the attempted restoration of bison in the English ecosystem is more about halting England’s current species loss than it is about restoring some kind of Stone Age ecology to the island, and while the KWT anticipate a keystone species like Bison bringing additional eyes upon the value of conservation and the health benefits of interacting with great nature, the purpose of the project is to create healthier English forests that can support larger numbers of animals.

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“Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape,” said Paul Hadaway from the KWT.

European bison with calves – Pryndak Vasyl, CC license

Funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, which donated £1.1 million, Wilder Blean will cover 500 hectares (1,236 acres) of the largest area of ancient forest in the UK. Once the bison are established within a 150 hectare parcel, the KWT hopes to reintroduce “iron age pigs” and free-roaming longhorn cattle, in order to make West Blean Wood as near to the original product as possible.

Thousands of years ago, auroch—an enormous species of wild cattle, extinct as recently as the 1600s—would also have roamed the English countryside, and the longhorn cattle are ideal for attempting to replicate the unique effects that the aurochs no doubt had upon the landscape.

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In fact, European bison are likely hybrids of both the extinct subspecies called steppe bison and the auroch, because scientists have analyzed their DNA and found that the animals possess up to 10% of the genetic code of the auroch.

“The partners in the Kent project have long dreamed of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long,” said Paul Whitfield, of Wildwood Trust, a conservation charity that will monitor the health and welfare of the bison.

“People will be able to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper way.”

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Cher Sheds Tears of Joy as Pakistan’s ‘Loneliest Elephant’ Wins Bid For Freedom

An elephant at the Murghazar Zoo in Islamabad, is set to be freed thanks to a May 21 ruling by the Pakistan High Court.

Pop icon Cher, who advocated for four years on his behalf, calling him “the world’s loneliest elephant”, is celebrating the news.

“THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE,” she tweeted.

Since at least 2016, animal rights groups have worked tirelessly for the release of Kaavan, a 33-year old Asian elephant from Sri Lanka, whose only playmate died eight years ago in the zoo.

To facilitate the court’s ruling, Pakistan’s Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) is working to—at last—find him a “suitable sanctuary”.

RELATED: Denmark Buys Country’s Last Remaining Circus Elephants for $1.6 Million So They Can Retire

“The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary,” the court wrote in its ruling.

The world was mobilized into action, sending petitions to the Pakistani government, after photos showed the elephant living in terrible conditions, sometimes chained.

Friends of Islamabad-Zoo Facebook Page

The IWMB has assembled an eight-member committee to arrange the relocation of Kaavan. Members include WWF senior director Rab Nawaz, biodiversity specialist Z.B. Mirza, an Islamabad Zoo veterinary officer, IUCN’s Nilanga Jaysinghe, and co-founder of Save the Elephant Foundation Derek Thompsan, according to a June 6 report by Gulf News.

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The court had also directed that all the other remaining animals be moved to temporary sanctuaries within 60 days—including brown bears, lions and birds—while the zoo improves its standards, reported Al Jazerra.

Kaavan first came to Pakistan at the age of 1, as a gift for the country’s leader at the time. Since his companion Saheli died in 2012, he has not been able to enjoy the company of other elephants. His release will give him the opportunity to live out his life among a social group of his peers.

WATCH: Orphan Elephant Conquer His Fear of Water With Help From His Loving Human

Cher sent one of her representatives to the zoo in 2016 to advocate for Kaavan. That same year, she also advocated for human rights by delivering water to Flint, Michigan, during its drinking water crisis.

The pop star is incredibly thankful that hers and others’ efforts have paid off. “It’s so emotional for us that I have to sit down,” she wrote.

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Maasai Nature Conservancy Asks For Help To Fight Pandemic—And 100,000 People Answer

The rolling plains of the Maasai Mara in Kenya are home to the famous red-cloaked Maasai people as well as some of the most charismatic animals on earth.

When it became clear COVID-19 would destroy the tourism industry of the Maasai living in the breathtaking Nashulai Nature Conservancy, the tribe petitioned Avaaz, a website connecting local people-powered movements, to try and organize a response call for help.

As a result, 100,000 people raised money to help pay the rangers’ salaries, ensuring that the critical Nashulai elephant migration corridor remained safe from poachers. The money was also enough to secure sanitation and medical supplies and food for the Maasai community there, so they could survive the COVID-19 storm.

About 3,000 people live inside the boundaries of the 6,000-acre conservancy, with another 5,000 living in surrounding communities in traditional Maasai villages where they rely mostly on their cattle for food and money.

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In 2016, Nelson Ole Reiyia and Margaret Koshal Reiyia placed a project on Avaaz to turn their home into a Nature Conservancy. “Avaazers” around the world chipped in with hearts and wallets to launch the Nashulai Maasai Conservancy, an innovative way to help the Maasai maintain their traditional way of live in a harmonious way with the land.

The Conservancy created a way to bring outside capital into the community through offering safaris and camping, as well as cultural homestays and other events.

Nashulai Conservancy – nashulai.com

These community programs brought increasing opportunities for education, established greater food and market security, and needed sanitation facilities.

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The Maasai are famous warriors, and the conservancy established a mighty force against poachers. Professional rangers and young warriors called “moran” who are trained in bush practices, now serves as “The Warriors for Wildlife Protection”, monitoring the animal populations and protecting against poaching.

The Modern Maasai Facing COVID-19

COVID-19 has put much of this in danger. The tourist infrastructure, which 90% of all the Nashulai Maasai depend on for income, has completely collapsed.

The community library has been repurposed as a storehouse for medical equipment—and rationing of food supplies like cornmeal and cooking oil has begun.

With help from Avaaz they’ve been able to pay the rangers’ salaries, and import much needed medical and sanitary supplies.

MORE: Thousands of Young Adults Are Volunteering to Catch COVID-19 to Save Others in the Future

“We’ve worked hard to create this unique conservancy, and we want it to be there for the people in their deepest moment of need,” writes Nelson Ole Reiyia on the Nashulai website.

Generous persons can still donate to their COVID-combating activities directly on the website, which are tax deductible contributions for the U.S. and Canada.

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100 Year-old Bachelorette Tortoise May Be the Last of Her Species – But She Has New Hope for a Boyfriend

Last year, in the recently expanded Galapagos Islands National Park, scientists made a “monumental” discovery when they found a solitary female tortoise on one of the islands where tortoises were thought to be extinct for over 100 years.

Because of its location, the animal was presumed to belong to the extinct species only found on that island, Chelonoidis phantasticus, the Fernandina giant tortoise, named for the Fernandina Island, one of the youngest and most volcanically-active in the famous Galapagos Archipelago.

The matriarchal tortoise is believed to be over 100 years-old, and it was immediately transferred to the giant tortoise breeding center on Santa Cruz Island and plans were made for a return to Fernandina to try and track down a mate.

In the meantime, blood samples were sent to Yale University to determine whether or not she is indeed a member of the extinct species.

Two months ago, in December 2019, a team of 10 scientists and park rangers ventured to the island and found evidence that confirmed the presence of at least one more turtle on the island.

“The trails suggest that there is still at least one tortoise on the island, but the dense vegetation, especially ferns, made it impossible to locate,” said Washington Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.

RELATED: After Being Declared Extinct in the Wild, Turtle Species is Saved by Hindu Temple

A follow-up expedition on January 24th failed when Fernandina’s resident volcano, La Cumbre, began erupting, creating impossible weather conditions for tortoise hunting.

In a call yesterday to the Galapagos Conservancy, GNN learned that the blood test results from Yale have not yet been completed. The Virginia-based Conservancy, one of the primary organizations involved in the Fernandina tortoise project, is still hoping to find a second tortoise to help confirm the exact species of the female found in 2019.

Fernandina female – Courtesy of Galapagos National Park Directorate

“Right now there is only one extant sample in the world and that’s a taxidermy male tortoise collected in 1906,” Johannah Barry, President of the Galapagos Conservancy told GNN.

Barry says it’s prudent to point out that just because the old gal was found on an island where the resident tortoise species is the Fernandina, doesn’t automatically make her one—because, as Barry points out, sailors from the 1950s, and even the 1960s, were often moving tortoises around.

“I can understand why people are excited. It’s either going to be, ‘wow, it’s a Fernandina tortoise,’ or ‘wow, it’s not.’”

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The last time one of these tortoises had been seen in the Galapagos was 112 years ago, a male—and there is no record of ever seeing a female. So, a positive identification from Yale biologists would turn out to be a very big ‘wow’ indeed.

ALSOBaby Tortoises Survive on Galapagos Island for First Time in 100 Years

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Scottish Government Scores Hole in One for Wildlife, Blocking Golf Course on Protected Coastline

On every continent, wildlife habitats of all kinds are threatened with development and construction, but perhaps none stand at greater risk than coastline ecosystems like estuaries, salt marshes, and coastal wetlands.

In Scotland one of the last remaining dune ecosystems of its kind in the entire country was just saved from an attempt to turn the unique sandy shore into a golf course.

The wetlands area known as Coul Links is a Ramsar site recognized by UNESCO, and part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area.

After four years of campaigning by citizens and wildlife groups to preserve the coastline, home to over 1,200 species of plants and animals, some unique to Europe, Scottish ministers made their decision this week, refusing to allow the development to proceed.

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The Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the IUCN, and Scottish Natural Heritage cheered the news after the application was declined on the 21st of February. The groups had been arguing that there were golf courses already serving the area—one that was controversial for the same reasons (and in the news media because of its celebrity owner).

“Today’s decision demonstrates that individuals can make a real difference by taking the time to stand up for nature,” commented the Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive Jo Pike.

By Julian Paren / Geograph.org project, CC license

“Saving Coul Links from development is a strong sign that the Scottish Government is committed to protecting Scotland’s fantastic natural environment, and that it is prepared to make difficult decisions,” she added.

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The East Sutherland site is an important stopover refuge for migratory waterfowl and other rare aquatic bird species—and after the golf course at Aberdeenshire was built over a coastal ecosystem, it looked like development of Coul Links was to be par for the course of modern development. Luckily for the wild places of Scotland and their admirers, a government is willing to stand up for them.

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Australian Soldiers Are Using Their Time Off to Care for Koalas Displaced by the Fires

As rainfall continues to extinguish the bushfires still burning across Australia, this brigade of soldiers has been doing their part to help recovering wildlife by using their rest periods to help injured koalas.

The 9th Brigade of the Australian Army recently posted a photo of their soldiers from the 16 Regiment Emergency Support Force bottle-feeding koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills.

According to the Brigade’s Facebook post, the soldiers have been using their time off from bushfire relief work to care for the koalas and build climbing structures for all the recovering marsupials.

Since the photos were posted to social media a few weeks ago, they have been shared more than 45,000 times.

RELATED: More Than 220 Sheep Saved From Australian Bushfires After Heroic Pup Herds Them to Safety

Not only have the soldiers been offering a helping hand to the wildlife center, they have also been helping to clear away burnt debris, hosting community benefits, offering emotional support to affected Australians, and tidying up residential properties.

Thankfully, the torrential rainfall across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory has extinguished more than 30 of the region’s the active bushfires—and officials say the downpour could put out the rest of the fires by the end of the week.

Although the downpour has resulted in some flooding across the provinces, the NSW Rural Fire Service says they are “over the moon” to see the rainfall aiding them in their fight against the bushfires.

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5 Years After Turning Disused Military Bases into Nature Reserves, Wolves Return and Use Bases as Havens

In a remarkable legislative move that increased the amount of protected areas for wildlife in Germany by 25%, the German government moved in 2015 to convert 62 disused Cold War-era military bases into wildlife refuges.

This added up to about 76,600 acres of additional protected land in the country, according to The Independent.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said at the time: “We are seizing a historic opportunity with this conversion — many areas that were once no-go zones are no longer needed for military purposes.”

“We are fortunate that we can now give these places back to nature,” Hendricks said.

During the 50-year-long dreary standoff at the Iron Curtain between East and West Germany, minimal human activity along the old Soviet/NATO border allowed the wildlife that had been chased out of other parts of Europe to recover in relative peace. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, scientists and voices for nature of all kinds realized that the lack of human activity had created natural sanctuaries for endangered European wildlife all along the international and ideological border.

LOOK: Reintroduction of Wolves Into Yellowstone Brings Wildlife Back Into Balance

The 62 decommissioned German military bases were located on the West German side of the Iron Curtain, where they became a habitat for the middle-spotted woodpecker and lesser spotted eagle, as well as a top tier species that, like the last remains of the Old World shattered by World War II, was gone from Europe by the time the Iron Curtain descended across the continent—wolves.

Wolves at the Gate

Sport hunting competitions and the desire to protect livestock herds led to the regional  extermination of the wolf. Writing for Science Magazine, Erik Stokstad reported that the wolf has returned to parts of Germany, in large part due to the reformed military bases which proved to be perfect havens.

“In the late 1990s, wolves began to dart into Germany from the forests of Poland,” he wrote. “The first litter of pups in Germany was reported in 2001 in Saxony-Brandenburg. They’ve since spread westward into six more of Germany’s 16 federal states, and monitoring data show their numbers are rising.”

MORE: Humpback Whale Population Bounces Back From Near-Extinction—From Just 450, to Over 25,000

Due to poaching, it was found that almost all wolf packs across Germany favored military bases over wildlife refuges, even though the refuges possessed fewer roads, and larger, denser sections of forest.

Guillaume Chapron, a wildlife ecologist at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, suggested that since deer populations on military bases aren’t managed by hunting, it means fewer poachers or hunters are coming in contact with wolves there.

Coupled with the lack of soldiers and wars, Chapron suggests that, like the 62 decommissioned sites in 2015, all military bases slated to be closed should be turned into nature reserves for this reason.

LOOK: This Woman and Her Pet Otters Have Spent the Last 40 Years Protecting the Species From Extinction in England

Bases and military installations in other countries along the Iron Curtain were closed down and turned into wildlife refuges, thanks, in part, to the European Green Belt initiative led by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his grassroots nonprofit International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Today the backbone of green runs from the very northern tip of Finland down into Greece and eastward across the Carpathians before halting at the border with Turkey.

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Couple Protects Endangered Lemurs in Madagascar By Launching Mobile Library to Teach Indigenous People to Read

When a young couple went on their 2014 honeymoon in Madagascar—one of the most cherished environments in the world—the heartbreaking problems of indigenous people, forests, and lemurs swirled around in their minds until one day a holistic solution revealed itself, like a bright sunbeam through the tangle of jungle canopy.

Their notion of how they could benefit both wildlife and people is today a program that is easing the poverty of the Malagasy people, while helping to save the endangered lemurs, which are found on the island of Madagascar, and no where else.

The nation’s economy is the fourth fastest-growing in the world. In fact, one fourth of the globe’s vanilla comes from the island. Yet the vast majority of the adult Malagasy people can’t even read, so they don’t benefit from the higher-paying jobs. They are left to fend for themselves, living off the land—which encroaches on and endangers the wildlife surrounding them.

The couple, Shana and Vlad Vassilieva, learned all this from their tour guide, JJ (Jean-Jacques Rafenomahazomanana), a passionate local who shared his vast experiences of Malagasy culture and led them beyond designated tourist zones, into isolated villages.

There, they noticed that the schools for children had no books—and the agricultural practices in villages were not sustainable. They decided they could address both these problems, by tackling the literacy issue.

They partnered with JJ to create the Mobile Library Project, designed not only to teach people about letters, but also about their lemurs.

“One of the main goals is to help the Malagasy see how much can be gained from the forests and nature when you take care of it and practice more sustainable methods,” said Shana. “So while kids and adults are learning to read, they are also learning how to thrive off the lands in more mutually beneficial ways.”

LOOK: Dozens of Creatures Thought to Be Extinct Found Alive in ‘Lost City’ in the Jungle

The non-profit Mobile Library Project employs two additional educators and operates out of a van that travels to four villages every month in coordination with local schools.

They not only provide books and lessons on reading and writing, the group also offers workshops on how to improve your crop yield and how to rely less on the forests. That way, the Malagasy can develop new resources and leave more of the forest to the indigenous animals—80 percent of which are not seen anywhere else in the world.

“When the people read books, they start to see the relation between the environment and people,” said Madagascar native JJ, who serves as manager of the nonprofit. Speaking to Shana, an Idaho filmmaker, as part of a short documentary, he explained that the people are learning “if they protect the forest, they can get a lot of benefit from it.”

The project also gives families seeds to plant. Whenever a family joins the book project they also get some seeds, along with a book. Each school the project visits also gets fruit trees. When it’s grown, the students can eat the fruit, or teachers can sell the fruit to help pay for supplies and other needed improvements. The trees also help retain water in the soil, provide shade cover for plants, and prevent soil erosion. They are also sharing ananambo trees because they have medicinal benefits and a denser nutritional value, and beans since they are easy to grow.

MORE: Here’s Why You Can Hail 2019 as a Year of ‘Incredible Species Action’

Since 2016, the group has helped to educate 6,200 people, planted 80 trees at 14 schools, and distributed 66 pounds of seeds for 46 families—as well as thousands of books.

Photos by Mobile Library Project on Facebook

The couple also partners with Zara Aina, a Madagascar nonprofit, and received some grant funding to launch the first tour in 2016. Since adding the seed and tree sharing program in November 2018, they’ve expanded their vision further, hoping to offer micro loans to help Malagasy natives develop their own businesses.

“I love the idea of becoming, not just a mobile library for education, but also a mobile ‘re-greener’ and conservation based financial empowerment tool on wheels,” she said.

WATCH the video about the Lemur connection, and FIND more info at mobilelibraryproject.com

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