A FARM in Spain’s Andalucia has become the epicentre of a new project to reintroduce the European bison back into the region after an absence of thousands of years.
The conservation project has been centered around a farmstead in Encinarejo, a small municipality in the Sierra de Andujar natural park, a stunning area around one hour north east of Cordoba city and already home to successful wolf and lynx colonies.
The bison, around 10 individuals, were were specifically chosen for their genetics and were transported from Poland as part of a larger EU introduction program and will be monitored by the Polish embassy.
The embassy will also work alongside the Association of the European Bison in Spain and the Junta to understand whether the species can once again thrive in the Andalucian climate.
As well as aiming to once again become an important part of Spain’s wildlife, experts hope that the mammoth mammal will also help maintain the stability of the ecosystem, given their love for grazing.
“The bison are natural strimmers,” said Moran, “They can weigh up to 1,000kg and can eat up to 30kg of vegetation per day, mainly shoots and leaves.”
“It presents the potential to open up areas previously covered in scrub and allow grass and other flowers to flourish, which in turn invites other species to share their habitat.”
It is hoped that the reintroduction will also play a large role in the prevention of forest fires across Andalucia, as the bison carry out forestry work that would normally be expensive to do by hand.
A pilot project in 2010 introduced seven bison into an oak forest in northern Spain, and foresty engineers were impressed at the ground clearing work they did, eating bent and damaged saplings and shrubs and clearing large areas of undergrowth.
In total, there are 18 centres across Spain with similar projects with around 150 individuals currently on record.
This is a far cry from 100 years ago when a mass culling of the species across Europe left the bison practically extinct, with the last wild examples being shot in 1927 in Poland.
Around 50 survived in captivity across Europe and all Spanish bison are thought to be direct descendants of these lucky few.
Sonia Roig Gómez, a professor at the school of forestry and environment at the Polytechnic University of Madrid has applauded the program and hopes the bison continue the work previously only done by sheep and goats.
“Pasturage by sheep farmers is an important factor in the prevention of wildfires, and its decline in recent years has been a major factor in the increase in forest fires.” said Gomez.
Currently, bison are not recognised by the Spanish government as an indigenous species, and therefore the centres do not qualify for government funding, instead relying on donations and private investors.
The lack of recognition also prevents the introduction of the bison into the wild as they are technically an invasive species.
However the organisations hope that this will soon change and the animals are noticed for their potential benefit to the regions ecosystem, but also their potential for playing a role in successful eco tourism.
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