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World Wide Fund for Nature Tries to Restore Bison to Russia

The World Wide Fund for Nature is trying to restore the population of the European bison, the largest animal on the continent. The project is introducing new animals to a bison herd at a nature reserve in Russia's North Ossetia.

In an effort to restore the European bison, 10 of the large animals were brought in November from the nature reserve where they were bred outside Moscow to a farm in North Ossetia.

Wildlife specialists say the animals needed about 90 days to try to adapt to the mountainous region. One of the animals died during the period, but the surviving bison were released into the exisiting herd at the Tseysky Nature Reserve.

No new animals have been introduced at the Tseysky Reserve in the past 40 years, which has affected bison reproduction

Tseysky reserve Scientist Pavel Veinberg says he hopes the new bison will help speed up the dwindling population. Veinberg said that there are now 46 bison in the wild, according to the last count. He says these nine bison will increase the population and, because they are from a different breeding group, he hopes it will give an impulse to reproduction. He says the herd has not grown for the past 10 years.

Ossetian Anton Antonov says he thinks it is great that environmentalists are trying to restore the animals in the wild. Antonov said that Russians are not known for their love of the environment and he is glad officials are trying to bring back the animals, otherwise many others will disappear.

European bison, otherwise known as wisent, originally roamed most of Europe. The last wild European bison was killed in 1927 by poachers in the western Caucuses, leaving a few dozen captive bisons to reproduce.

Making matters worse, tough economic times in the 1990s led to fierce poaching in the reserves in the North Caucuses region.

Scientist Veinberg says he has high hopes the bison will thrive in their new environment. Veinberg said there are natural salt deposits in the regio, which is important for bison especially in spring. He says he hopes the bison will soon meet the wild bison nearby.

Environmentalists are also encouraging the average Russian to take part and help boost bison population by adopting one of the animals raised at the Prioksko-Terrasny reserve near Moscow.

Antonov likes the idea of adopting an animal until it can be released in the wild. Antonov said if he had the money he would definitely take care of an animal. But he says even if he cannot, he is sure someone else will.

The North Ossetia European bison repopulating project allows people to adopt an animal for about $1,500, which pays for food, veterinary care and maintenance, and includes the right to name the animal.