Flying over Yakutia, we always see and realize the scale of its territory. If mountains, then endless; if tundra, then as long as the eye can embrace; if forests, then dense and untouched. One can’t even believe that once here everything was different. Meanwhile, it is known that the territory of the North-East of the Eurasian continent until relatively recently (20,000 years ago) had a completely different landscape and terrain.
The boundless plains, overgrown with lush forbs, in the shade of gloomy mountains with massive glaciers lying on them, waters of which are fed by innumerable streams and rivers. Such is the landscape of the Pleistocene period and the abode for numerous herds of ancient bulls (bison, musk ox and others) and horses, mammoths and woolly rhinos. Somewhere here the ancestors of modern people roamed, following the migrating animals.
Today, multidirectional scientific work is underway with the return of the Pleistocene fauna to the ancestral territories. High-tech research is being introduced in the field of mammoth cloning, as well as projects to create a Pleistocene park and breeding bison and musk ox in Yakutia.
Mammoth cloning requires the combined efforts of scientists from around the world. Today, Yakut scientists from the Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North, M.K. Ammosov NEFU and the Department of the Study of Mammoth Fauna of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) cooperate with the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation (South Korea), the Beijing Institute of Genomics and a number of researchers from the Kindai University of Japan. Not without reason, scientists from around the world see the prospect of cloning mammoths in Yakutia. After all, 75% of the found remains of mammoths fall on this territory.
The Pleistocene Park project aims to recreate the soils of the characteristic mammoth tundrosteppe. For this, in 1988, an environmentalist from Vladivostok, Sergey Zimov, brought a herd of Yakut horses to the selected site. So the scientific station TIG DVO RA was opened in the village of Chersky, Nizhnekolymsky district. Horses have quite successfully taken root there and at the moment they are coping with the task assigned to them: they deal with perennial deposits of dried grass and perfectly fertilize the soil with manure. In addition to the Yakut horses, the population of the Pleistocene park was replenished with reindeer, moose, and musk ox. The plans include the import of Manchurian deer and Canadian forest bison.
Over the years of work in these areas, the most effective experiments were the return of musk oxen and bison to their historical homeland, distant ancestors of which inhabited these lands during the Pleistocene.
The first experiments with the adaptation of animals that previously inhabited the territory of Yakutia, but did not survive, were carried out in the early 1970s. Yaks were transported from the Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the Gorno-Altai Region to the Khangalass ulus (then the Ordzhonikidze district). With the aim of their acclimatization and subsequent experimental breeding, they were settled on the island of Kharyalakh. Successful adaptation of yaks in the ancestral territories was announced at the 16th Congress of Genetics in Moscow. Unfortunately, then it all ended there.
A new round of work on the return of introduced species (animals transferred to a territory where the conditions are close to those in which they lived) occurred in 1996, when the first musk ox population was brought to Yakutia. Since this year, several more musk ox populations have been introduced into the territory of Yakutia by the Department of Bioresources of the Ministry of Nature Protection of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and ALROSA Company. From 1996 to 2014, a total of 9 musk ox populations (177 individuals) were brought.
At the moment, their population in Yakutia has reached 2300 animals, and herds have begun to independently expand their habitat. This indicates that the experiment was more than successful.
Another animal returning to its original cradle is a bison. The starting point of this story was the program for the state policy implementation of our republic in the field of enrichment of flora and fauna biodiversity. In the spring of 2006, 30 forest bison were transported by plane from Canada’s Elk Island National Park to Lena Pillars Natural Park.
Two years later, the first bison were born. They became the first local bison for the last 6,000 years on Yakut land. Then the bison population appeared already in Gorny ulus. And, as in the case of musk oxen, bison have also shown the ability to live and propagate in the climatic conditions of modern Yakutia.
The populations of bison and musk ox are so far the most successful and promising areas in the project of reconstruction of the Pleistocene fauna in Yakutia. The most important question that a layman may have is ‘Why do we need to spend such labor and expenses, for what?’ Answering it, we note some of the most important arguments:
- Improvement of tundra and taiga ecosystems. The growth of large fauna will accelerate the processes of utilization of plant organics in frayed ecosystems and, in general, will increase their secondary productivity. Thanks to organic fertilizers of large animals, the transformation of substances and energies in ecosystems will accelerate, which will improve the food supply for all herbivores.
- The creation of strong, numerous populations of musk ox and bison in Yakutia will create a “reserve area” isolated from relatives. The bison was already on the verge of extinction when, in the 19th century, the American bison population was destroyed - from 30 million heads to one thousand.
- 3) The third reason is that bison and musk ox, as a species, appeared in prehistoric times here in Yakutia, this was their cradle and ancestral home. So, just as a person has the right to live in his native places, so these wonderful animals have the right to do so. Moreover, within reasonable limits, they will not compete with other species, but rather will occupy empty spaces in forests and tundra. According to the most conservative estimates, the musk ox population in Yakutia must exceed 200,000 heads in order to compete with other species. According to the most conservative estimates, the musk ox population in Yakutia must exceed 200,000 heads in order to compete with other species. The endless Yakut forests will not be cramped for bison either.
The population of wild bulls and their varieties was one of the largest during the Pleistocene period. Hence the prevalence of their fossil remains. Note that mammoths were significantly inferior to populations of bulls and ancient horses. Wooly rhino population was even more scarce.
Who knows, maybe flying over the expanses of our Republic in a few decades, we will be able to see the herds of these ancient animals warming their shaggy bodies under the northern sun.
Big thank you to Sergey Fedorov of the NEFU Mammoth Museum for the assistance and support.