During the last ice age millions of mammoths, bison, horses and reindeer roamed Siberia and Alaska. When climate warning enabled humans to first enter that territory, animal density declined and the steppe ecosystems were destroyed. In the absence of grazing animals, grasses and herbs were outcompeted by slowly growing mosses, lichen, evergreen shrubs and sparse trees. In the modern Russian Arctic, one could travel for hundreds of miles and not encounter even a single big animal.
Pleistocene Park is a rewilding project in Siberia, whose main goal is to restore high productive steppes similar to the mammoth steppe of the Ice Age. This will not only lead to the recreation of the so-called “Northern Serengeti” in the Arctic, but more importantly will help to mitigate climate change. Arctic high productive steppes prevent permafrost from thawing, absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and directly cool the climate by reflecting higher portions of solar energy back into space.
In order to recreate the steppe ecosystems, we are introducing various species of herbivores that once roamed the Arctic, or can adapt to fill the niches of extinct species in the modern Siberian climate. We observe and study how they slowly transform the vegetation, promoting grass growth and accelerating productivity.
The last bison in Siberia was killed 10,000 years ago. Next month we are flying 12 one-year-old bison from Alaska to Pleistocene Park, whose roaming will help to slow the thawing of Arctic permafrost and resulting climate change emissions. The bison will be provided with the necessary care to adapt to their new home, including oversight by a full-time ranger trained in veterinary care, and forage and shelter to sustain them through their first winter.
We have already undertaken multiple trips to bring animals to the Park already. The video below shows part of our trip to relocate yaks from Lake Baikal to Pleistocene Park in the high Arctic.
Director, Pleistocene Park
Featured image credit Tony’s Takes, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0