Russia to Become One of The Leaders in Wisent Recovery

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On April 2017 a group of American wisent specialists visited the Prioksko-Terrasny Reserve.

American experts visited Russia in the framework of Russian-American cooperation in preservation of wild flora and fauna and their habitats. One of the aspects of this cooperation is to work according to the cooperation plan on Problem V for 2016-2017, which presupposes common work to support health and prevent illnesses of big mammals – wisents and bisons. A group of American scientists visited some of the specially protected natural areas in the Central region of Russia, which have a program to create an open wisent population.

Their goal is to share modern knowledge and to promote cooperation in the sphere of European wisent population revival in Russia. Veterinary specialists form this group spoke about the US experience in genetic research of bisons, in research of open bison population illnesses and of those in closed herds, in methods of laboratory research, in ways to diversify the genetic fund of the animals, etc.

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The American delegation included James Derr, Professor of Veterinary Pathology School in Texas University Veterinary Collage, James Matheson, Deputy Director of National Bison Association and two employees of Ecology, Science, Technology and Healthcare Departments of the United States Embassy in the Russian Federation – Benton Wisehart and Olga Khriakova.

In the Prioksko-Terrasny Reserve the Main Wisent Breeding Center attracted special attention of our colleagues. For Doctor James Derr it was not his first visit to our reserve, as 10 years ago he visited not only the Prioksko-Terrasny, but also Orlovskoye Polesye National Park and Kaluzhskye Zaseki Reserve. He highly appreciated modern condition of our reserve and the territories, which work in the sphere of saving and restoration of European wisents.

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 “I am very impressed, – said James Derr. – 10 years ago none of us believed, that European wisent saving and restoration in Russia might result in such a success. The situation 10 years ago and today is nearly incomparable. We are surprised and happy to see the amount of financing for this project, the built and future infrastructure, level of work with the animals, the state of the reserve. Most of all, it is wonderful to see new people in the project, it is like a fresh breath. I see, that your employees have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and are open for cooperation. 10 years ago I posed some detailed questions, but couldn’t get any intelligible answers. Sometimes I thought they might hide something. Today they talk freely and positively about their achievements and failures. Russia today has everything for future successful development of this program. I believe, that if such situation persists for at least 10 more years, you will definitely become one of the leaders in European wisent conservation.”  

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“Our American colleagues liked the way we maintain our Wisent Breeding Center and underlined – as one of its undoubted advantages in education and demonstration – that the visitors can see and compare European wisents and American bisons, – said Irina Zemlyanko, director of the Main Wisent Breeding Center. – The guide can tell our guests about the way of life of the animals and the history of American bison restoration, which was a successful project of our colleagues to save this species from extinction.”

During professional discussion we spoke about genetic status of wisents from the Main Wisent Breeding Center and from semi-open population. Specialists wait for the upcoming publication of our Polish colleagues research results, which will shed some light on disputable questions. For example, how to plan future breeding work, how to introduce fresh blood, including semi-open populations.

Still the main themes for cooperation with American colleagues was to get acquainted with and share their vast experience in health control and population management. Their populationgrows throughout the years and today it consists of more then 400 000 individuals and in 20 years the number may double.

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 “The skills of our American colleagues to work with animals even beyond the boundaries of the protected areas is definitely worth sharing, – said Oleg Prigorianu, director of Orlovskoye Polesye National Park. – The territories of our nature reserves and national parks cannot grow endlessly to protect the increasing habitat of the animals. Our American colleagues are experienced in technical issues, such as catching bisons, tagging hundreds of animals, real time monitoring and massive veterinary control. We rack our brains to develop the best way to immobilize animals, to divide herds, to use radio-collars, but they had already found the best solutions, necessary equipment is produced on factories. It became a real industry. We try to solve the problems on our own. It is incorrect. We try to reinvent a wheel. One issue has special value for us – it is tagging of animals in open and semi-open populations. Partially to separate and localize hybrid individuals, which are a common part of a semi-open herd. We do not hide it, but nobody is obsessed with this idea. We estimate the level of hybrids in 5%. If this issue had been cleverly stated 5 years ago, today we would have had none of this problems. We may save a lot of time and efforts, if we understand and accept the experience of our American colleagues.”