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European bison (Bison bonasus)

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Return of the European Bison

A European bison (Bison bonasus) checks his new surroundings after being relocated to Armenis, Tarcu mountains, southwestern Romania. Photograph: Costas Dumitrescu

The crowd surges forward against the barrier, cameraphones are held aloft, children are hoisted on to shoulders. The celebrities, the first European bison about to set their hooves in this remote Romanian valley in the southern Carpathian mountains for two centuries, wait in the shadows of a huge trailer.

The forest, already home to bears and packs of wolves, is the final destination for 17 of Europe’s largest land mammal, some of whom have been travelling hitched to lorries for five days from as far as Sweden. It will be their first time out of captivity.

Video (see the link below)

A herd of bison are gathered from across Europe for release into the wild in Romania. The animals were shot with a tranquiliser gun to immobilise them, then loaded onto a truck to drive to Romania. In all 17 bison were collected from wildlife parks and breeding centres across Europe. Video: Kristjan Jung

The release of the animals into the wild is one of the biggest in Europe since reintroductions began in the 1950s, establishing wild populations in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, and Kryygzstan. More will be reintroduced each year, with an aim of having 500 in the mountains eventually.

Bison bonasus was driven to extinction in the wild across Europe in 1927 after decades of decline from hunting and habitat loss. But it has become that rare endangered species: a conservation success story.

There are now thousands in the wild, all descended from the 54 individuals in captivity when the last wild one was killed in Poland’s Bialowieza forest.

Despite the increase in numbers, the European bison is still rarer than other high profile species, such as the black rhino, even with the reintroductions. There are over 5,000 European bison, with about 3,200 in the wild.

Frans Schepers, managing director of the Netherlands-based charity behind the release last weekend, Rewilding Europe, said: “It has a big symbolic value, bringing back animals. I’ve done that a lot in Africa, with rhinos and elephants, but in Europe it is very rare. Releasing animals, giving them space, is a sign of hope, it shows that if we choose, we can help wildlife come back.”

The hulking, hairy beasts, some standing nearly two metres tall and and weighing as much as 1,000kg, have not been seen in this part of Romania for generations. “But it has never quite disappeared from our minds and souls,” says Adrian Hagatis, project manager at WWF Romania.

A tussle ensues as the animals are let out in their new range at Armenis, Tarcu mountains, Romania. Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/Reuters

One of the founding legends of Moldovia, in Romania’s east, centres around a Romanian nobleman, Dragoș, killing a bison, an act which some say was once a prerequisite for joining the country’s army. The herbivore is a symbol of national pride, and several nearby places still carry bison-related names.

But for Romania, the second poorest country in the EU after Bulgaria, bringing back bison is not just of cultural importance, it is also an economic imperative.

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Attacks prompt Nepal to cap wildlife growth

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Attacks by wild animals have caused lives and property to be lost

Officials in Nepal have said they will now have to put a cap on the growth of wildlife including endangered species like tigers and rhinos.

They say it is a result of significant increase in loss of human lives from attacks by wild animals.

The problem is especially acute in buffer zones between human settlements and national parks.

In recent years, Nepal has developed a successful protection programme for many endangered species.

The Bardiya National Park in the west now has more than 80 elephants, almost 10 times as many as there were in the 1990s.

In the Himalayas, the numbers of endangered species like snow leopards and red pandas have been growing as well.

And the country has nearly 24% of its land area as protected areas, including national parks, conservation areas and wildlife reserves.

With all these achievements in nature conservation, however, Nepal has also witnessed a rising number of human deaths and property losses because of wildlife.

In the last five years, more than 80 people have been killed by wild elephants while 17 of the animals died in retaliatory killings, according to forest ministry officials.

Elephant protest

Last month, local people in Chitwan, southern Nepal, staged a strike and demanded that a rogue elephant be killed after it had taken the lives of three people.

A few months ago, a leopard in western Nepal caused terror as it killed more than a dozen people within a matter of weeks.

In eastern Nepal, herds of wild elephants continue to rampage, demolishing human settlements and raiding crops.

National park boundaries are no barrier to animal movement

Meanwhile, common leopards are increasingly attacking children and livestock in the hilly region.

Further north, in the trans-Himalayan region, locals continue to complain about snow leopards preying on their livestock.

Although forest ministry officials are yet to compile the latest data on these losses, they do admit that such incidents have gone up remarkably.

“Before, we used to record about 30 human deaths because of wildlife attacks annually but in the past few years the figure appears to have risen significantly,” said Forest Ministry spokesman Krishna Acharya who, until recently, headed Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

He added: “The time has now come for us to determine how many such wildlife species we can have in our protected areas.”

WWF’s Nepal country director, Anil Manandhar, said the problem had become quite serious.

“This is now something that could become the biggest threat and setback for Nepal’s success in wildlife conservation,” he explained.

Buffer zones

Wildlife experts say human settlements known as buffer zones around national parks have become flashpoints for human-wildlife encounters.

“The numbers of rhinos and tigers are increasing in the national park and they are moving out in search of food and space. Meanwhile, the increasing human population needs more of the natural resources available, and that competition creates conflict,” said Mr Acharya.

Most of Nepal’s national parks and protected areas are either in the Himalayan region or in the Tarai area, the southern plain land that border India.

Yet, wildlife-related loss of lives and properties are also increasingly being seen in the mid-hill region, geographically located between the Himalayas and Tarai plain land.

Rhino numbers in Chitwan National Park have shot up in recent years

Conservationists point at the growing number of attacks on children and livestock by common leopards because this region has seen huge success in community forestry.

“We have been hearing complaints from farmers that community forests have more wildlife than in some national parks and therefore they are suffering losses of lives and properties,” said Yam Bahadur Malla, country director for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Nepal.

He also suggested it was necessary to scientifically demarcate the boundaries of national parks, as some species involved in the attacks were sometimes found outside the existing boundaries.

Forest ministry officials, however, said the chances of expanding existing protected areas were very slim because Nepal had already made huge swathes of land available for nature conservation.

Mr Acharya said the details of plans to limit wildlife growth were yet to be worked out but he added that one of the ideas would be to relocate some of the wildlife species.

“We have listed nine such species that can be trans-located from where there are quite many of them to where there are very few and such species include animals involved in conflicts with humans,” he said.

Mr Acharya also hinted that Nepal will now not commit to protect more wildlife than the amount its protected areas could sustain.

“For instance, we have said we will double the number of tigers to 250. But as we cannot expand our protected areas, we will not be able to commit more than that,” he said.

“Nor can we add new conservation areas.”

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