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Imagine you could time travel 10,000 years into the past. If you toured the British Isles ten millennia ago, you might be lucky enough to spot a wily lynx, its alert ears piqued in interest. Or maybe you would chance upon a majestic elk herd galloping through the Dornoch Forest. Touring the tundras, you could watch a herd of bison stomping past.
According to The Wildlife Trusts, these species were formerly native to England. Although they slowly disappeared from the landscape over time, wildlife conservation groups are working on rewilding the isles by reintroducing these animals to their former homes.
Wildlife activists have been rewarded for their efforts. Shortly after bringing the bison back to Britain, one of these wooly bovine gave birth. This marks the first time in thousands of years that a bison has given birth in the United Kingdoms, reports The Guardian.
Rewilding the isles
Tom Gibbs is a man with an interesting and unique job. Gibbs works for the Kent Wildlife Trust and goes by the title of Bison Ranger. In an interview with NPR, Gibbs shares the background of the rewilding project. He explains that large grazing animals like deer, elk, and bison, are nature’s “ecosystem engineers.” In other words, Gibbs explains, bison can change the British ecosystem into one that is habitable by smaller creatures.
“They [bison] debark trees, so they slowly kill these trees off, which is great because we’ve got standing dead wood, which is amazing for bats and woodpeckers.” Gibbs elaborates, “They roll around in the dust, and that creates these lovely open patches of grass where you get these flowers and species that normally, it’s too dark to grow.”
“Everything the bison do is shaping the world around them and creating more space and, you know, better homes for a lot of wildlife,” Gibbs explains further. “As humans, we can’t do that. You know, it’s very hard to replicate that. The bison do it, and they’re just being themselves.”
According to CNN, the Kent Wildlife Trust alongside Wildlife Trust embarked on a five-year-project, to bring the bison “ecosystem engineers” back to the United Kingdom. In July of 2022, they released three female bison into the wild, with plans to ship a male bison along soon.
A welcome surprise
As it later turned out, one of those bison released in July had a surprise on board. Gibbs explained to CNN. “It is difficult to detect pregnancy in bison as they naturally conceal being in calf to avoid being hunted by predators.”
After dropping off the bison, The Guardian elaborates, Gibbs and his team didn’t see one of the females for several days, and started to get concerned.
“I went off to try and to find her and after about an hour, I could hear some rustling in the tree line,” Gibbs said. When he found her through the trees, hiding in a secluded location, Gibbs was confused; he thought there was a muntjac deer with her.
“Then, lo and behold, this little face popped out from behind the female, and that was the eureka moment. It was just unbelievable to think this is the first wild born bison here in England. It was just a monumental moment,” Gibbs shared.
Fitting in with the herd
According to The Guardian, all three bison female are pitching in to care for the little miracle. They take turns cleaning the baby bison, protecting it from threats, and babysitting it, while the mother sleeps.
And, according to Gibbs, the brand new bison arrival is fitting in just fine with her herd. “It’s amazing, within a week she was so sure on her feet. She now seems to absolutely love the rain and she’ll hare around in circles, doing donuts,” Gibbs explained.
Hopefully, this baby bison, who is already breaking a milleniums-long rewilding record, is the first sign of the successful return of the bison to the British Isles. The lynx, bison, and elk-filled Britain of the past could yet become the Britain of the future.
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