Canada has sent 30 bison to Russia for reintroduction in the rugged and mostly forested Siberian province of Sakha, 5,000 years after they died out in the area, its parks administration said Thursday.
This third shipment of wood bison from Elk Island National Park outside Edmonton, Alberta as part of a conservation program started in 2006 brings the total number of bison in Sakha to more than 120, said Parks Canada.
The 10 male and 20 female calves were flown from Edmonton in trailers loaded onto a Russian transport aircraft on March 21, and were received by biologists in Sakha keen to round out the local ecosystem diversity of the protected Lenskiye-Stolby Nature Park.
The far northeastern Russian region is home to many moose, caribou and elk. But the last bison to roam the area died out about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.
The bison is North America's largest land mammal, growing to 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) and 1.8 meters (six feet) high at the shoulders.
Overhunting and the advance of the agricultural frontier brought them to the verge of extinction by 1900, with fewer than 200 plains bison and 300 wood bison left in the world.
The last large herd of wild plains bison was sold to Canada's government and shipped by train from Montana to Alberta in 1906, and herded to their new home at the newly established Elk Park.
"Most of today's surviving plains bison are their descendants," said Parks Canada.
A herd of the larger, darker wood bison that was found well north of the historic range of the plains bison was brought to Canada's only entirely-fenced in national park in 1965.
Today, they roam the hills and forage along the lakes and can be viewed from hiking trails along the park's boundaries.
Due to a lack of predators in the park, however, bison must periodically be transferred out in order to ensure their habitat is not over-grazed. This creates opportunities to provide animals for conservation projects elsewhere in North America and abroad, said Parks Canada.
Other bison from Elk Island have in the past been relocated to Alaska, British Columbia and Canada's Yukon and Northwest territories to repopulate herds.
Explore further: PacifiCorp Energy pleads guilty in bird deaths (Update)