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2009 - Year of the European Bison Rescue

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European BisonS.P. Gashchak, Deputy Director of the International Radioecology Laboratory in Slavutych, Ukriane, has posted an appeal to make 2009 the year of the European Bison Rescue. The request is in accordance with next year being the oriental year of the Ox.

Gashchak’s letter of appeal provides historical details about the near extinction of the European Bison. A thousand years ago, numerous herds seasonally migrated throughout Europe, but by 1927 the last wild animal disappeared. Zoos had saved 53 specimens that descended from only 12 parents.

Thanks to preservation and regeneration efforts, by the late 20th century up to 3,000 European Bison existed in the world.

The appeal then discusses the problem that most of the regenerated stock was located in Eastern Europe, an area that has undergone tremendous economic and political change. When Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, the country had approximately 685 animals. Allowing for annual increases, Ukraine should have over 1,000 European Bison, but only 200 remain.

In 1992, the Danevske Hunt Reserve in Ukraine’s Chernigov region was home to 120 European Bison. The last seven animals died there in spring 2007. A pair of bison were brought to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 1998, but one died immediately from trauma and the other died in 2000.

Still surviving are 10 animals in the Zalesie special hunt reserve in the Kyiv region and approximately 30 more in the Sumy region. The largest number of European Bison, approximately 60-80, currently reside in the Chernivtsi and Vynnytsia regions.

Gashchak points out that the sad story of the European Bison in Ukraine was caused not only by the lack of grazing and migration space and genetic issues, but the irresponsible attitude of state officials and agencies who were supposed to protect the species.

Recently, scientists and environmentalists have started a movement defending the European Bison. Ukraine has started a state program for the creation of safe nature preserves and a ban on selective shooting of the animals. It is a small first step, but necessary to the survival of the European Bison in Ukraine.

I know we are in tough economic times, but if you have any resources available, perhaps you can help make 2009 the year of the European Bison Rescue.

More information is available at the Russian-language website of the Kyiv Ecological and Cultural Center.

Note: see my previous June 2008 post about Ukraine’s Ministry of Emergency Measures plan to create a wildness area in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for 30 European Bison.