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'The possession of Siberia's natural wealth has become vital in determining Russia’s position in the world'
W.Bruce Lincoln

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

By Anna Liesowska
14 May 2018

It now seems likely in a matter of years; before this, the first bison since their extinction 10,000 years ago will be re-introduced.

The Siberian Times calls for support of this ambitious scientific project by Nikita and Sergey Zimov 

Remarkable video footage shows a yak calf born days after a herd was introduced here in northern Yakutia as part of an epic scientific experiment. 

The yaks came to Pleistocene Park thanks to a crowdfunding effort last year from people all over thew world.

Why is this a good idea?

Russian scientists are seeking to recreate the Ice Age ecosystem when woolly mammoths roamed here, and there is serious method in what some may see as their madness. 

Their purpose is to prove that the reintroduction of animals here will restore a landscape lost in prehistoric times and here’s the key thing: they believe it will crease an environment preventing Siberia’s permafrost melting by sealing in leaking methane. 

So the yaks came by truck and river barge to their new home, and a herd of bison are now waiting in Alaska to be relocated to the park, a 20 square kilometre tundra laboratory that could map a route to saving our planet. 

Certainly more funds are needed - please do support this project to make sure the bison of arrive at the Park. 

And after the bison, the mammoths.

Well, not quite back from the dead, but getting there. 

Harvard University scientist George Church and his team are using DNA recovered from a long-extinct beast found perfectly preserved in the Arctic ice after dying 42,000 years ago.

‘Cold-resistant elephants would flatten the insulating snow and supporting trees in winter and favour the highly heat reflective grass in summer,’ he said recently.

‘They would also help capture new carbon by enhancing the photosynthetic capacity of the vegetation.’

When this new hybrid is bred, Pleistocene Park is where it will call home. 

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Map of the route to deliver bisons from America to Russia; map showing location of the Pleistocene Park, and scientists Nikita and Sergey Zimov

 The park is run by a remarkable father and son team, Sergey and Nikita Zimov.

We have written about them before a number of times, but here Nikita explains what is at stake. 

From Nikita Zimov, director of the Pleistocene Park.

Arctic permafrost is melting. It will trigger catastrophic global warming. We’re creating a northern Serengeti to stop that from happening.

Pleistocene Park is a proof of concept, a public demonstration, a landscape scale art project and a philosophy of rational co-existence between humans and nature.

Here in the most remote corner of Siberia my father, Sergey Zimov, and I are reviving the ice age “Mammoth Steppe” ecosystem. Re-wilding this vast area of the Arctic will not only create a northern Serengeti, but most importantly, today, is a vital tool to mitigate global climate change. As climate warms, permafrost here in the Arctic is starting to melt. It will soon unlock huge carbon stocks and trigger a catastrophic global warming feedback loop. Natural grasslands, maintained by numerous grazing animals, have the capacity to both slow climate warming and prevent permafrost from melting.

Below: the Batagaika depression, otherwise known as Batagaika crater is a thermocarst depression in Yakutia. The land began to sink due to the thawing permafrost in the 1960s after the surrounding forest was cleared

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

We’ve already starting transforming the land, with our real world prototype.

For the past 20 years my family has spent a big portion of our time and all available finances to create Pleistocene Park. Currently we have over 90 large herbivores in the Park, including cold adapted Yakutian horses, moose, musk ox, reindeer, wisent, yaks and sheeps. These animals have shown that it is possible to transform ecosystems and reestablish high productivity grasslands by reintroducing large herbivores. 

We have fenced 20 square kilometers of land, built infrastructure and installed monitoring equipment. To bring animals to the Park we have mounted extreme expeditions ourselves. We traveled by small boat through the Arctic Ocean to Wrangel Island and from the Mongolian border with a 4x4 military transport truck, driving thousands of kilometers on frozen rivers through roadless wilderness.

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

To stand a chance of mitigating global warming on a much bigger scale we need your help to take the park to the next level!

However, for mitigating global warming, the size of the Park is not enough. This crowdfunding campaign is one of our first attempts to invite other people to participate in our project and an important step towards turning the modern Arctic into a northern Serengeti and stop permafrost degradation on a big scale.

Last year we ran a crowdfunding campaign to bring yaks and bison to Pleistocene Park.  With the help of 750 backers we successfully raised $106,000. In June we traveled more than 6000 miles by truck and river barge, through some of the most remote territory on earth, to transport 10 yaks to their new home.  We spent the fall and winter looking for bison. The best bison we found is a herd owned by a Native American tribe in Alaska. We bought 12 baby bison there. Dr Michelle Oakley (famous from the National Geographic show “Yukon Vet”) performed the veterinary testing necessary for export.

We are chartering a Canadian cargo plane to fly from Fairbanks Alaska across the Bering Straits to Pleistocene Park in Siberia.   Chartering the plane alone costs $130,000 making this the most expensive expedition we have ever undertaken to bring animals to Pleistocene Park.  We are running this, our second crowdfunding campaign, to raise money to pay for this airplane to carry our bison to Pleistocene Park.

Our 12 baby bison are in Alaska, waiting to travel to the Pleistocene Park.

Please support this campaign and let bison come back to Siberian Arctic for the first time in 10,000 years.

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?
What is Pleistocene Park reviving? 

During the last Ice Age, steppes with millions of mammoths, bison, horses, reindeers, tigers, wolves and numerous other animals occupied vast landscapes, spanning from Spain to Canada and from the Arctic islands to China.

Being the world biggest biome, mammoth steppe was as productive as the modern African savannah. These remains we collected on 1 hectare of eroded permafrost. Almost 30 big herbivores were roaming on each square kilometer of these endless pastures.

These vast herds maintained their pastures by cycling nutrients, promoting grass and herb growth, and dramatically increasing the productivity of the pastures. Looking at the modern low productive vegetation and few animals in the Arctic, it is hardly possible for people to imagine, such animal densities could exist in this place in the past. With the end the last Ice Age, the first humans came to this place and quickly killed most animals, driving many species extinct, and destroying the fragile symbiosis between plants and animals. Without herbivores, grasses could not compete with moss or shrubs. A few centuries later this ecosystem was gone. Now, for the first time in 10,000 years, we are bringing together animals which once roamed this place. Unfortunately not all the species made it to modern times, but we are trying to collect an animal assemblage which would restore the ecological function of the Mammoth Steppe.

The Arctic is rapidly getting warmer and permafrost is starting to thaw. On a local scale it means destruction of houses, roads and power lines. In addition, it means death to all modern Arctic ecosystems – the ground collapses, trees topple, canyons and depressions form, and Arctic rivers turn into mud flows with the destruction of fish populations.

However, the global impact of permafrost degradation is even greater. Permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws microbes transform this organic material into carbon dioxide and methane, creating a massive source of greenhouse gases, thus amplifying global warming to an even greater extent. 

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

How can restoring a lost Ice Age ecosystem mitigate global warming?

There are several mechanisms by which great herds of herbivores, once again roaming the Arctic, can cool the climate and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Animals will prevent permafrost from melting. To make permafrost colder, all that is needed is to remove heat insulating snow cover, and expose the ground to the extreme negative temperatures of the Arctic. In the steppe ecosystems, animal density is so high that animals looking for forage trample all the snow in the pastures several times per winter. This compacts the snow, massively reducing its heat insulating abilities. 

Grasses through the process of photosynthesis absorb carbon dioxide (strong greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere and preserve it in the form of roots. Cold Arctic soils assure that decomposition is low and roots do not decay for decades, centuries, or millennia. This creates a small but sustainable mechanism to partially absorb human emissions of greenhouse gases. The size of this is of course much smaller than our current human impact, but it is at least a step in the right direction.

Vast steppes allow direct cooling of the climate by increasing surface reflectance. Grasslands are much lighter in color than shrublands and forests. Therefore, they reflect a greater portion of direct sunlight energy back into space without transforming it into heat (albedo effect). This effect is especially pronounced in the early spring, when the sun is already active in the Arctic – dark forests absorb heat, while steppes are covered with snow and remain white. This is also why the Arctic Ocean is warming as the Polar ice caps melt.

Yak calf born in Pleistocene Park: will a hybrid elephant-mammoth be next?

Why is Pleistocene Park asking for crowdfunding help? 

Up to this date, Pleistocene Park was an experiment created mostly from the labor and funds of my father, my family and me, which we obtained from running the remote Arctic research station.

However, if we want to create a tool that will help us mitigate global warming, we have to take the Park to a totally different level. For that we need other people to participate in our project. For this purpose we have established the Pleistocene Park Foundation, Inc, which is a non-profit based in Pennsylvania, USA (received 501c3 status in December, 2017), to facilitate the development and implementation the Pleistocene Park ideas across the world. The Foundation is also charged with the goal to raise funds to the science and logistics behind this promising idea.

What we will do 

The specific scope of this campaign is to bring herds of bison to Pleistocene Park in the spring of 2018. We already bought twelve one-year-old American plains bison from a Native American Village in Alaska. Animals has already passed all veterinary tests and now preserved in the quarantine. From there animals will be placed into the individual  crates, loaded on the truck and taken to the international airport of Fairbanks.

From there we will charter the airplane to fly to the easternmost city of Anadyr’ in Russia, where animals would clear customs and continue on the same plane to the home town of the Pleistocene Park – Cherskii. There another truck would take bison to the park.

Bison was a keystone specie in the mammoth steppe ecosystem in the past and we expect it to take dominant role in the modern high productive steppes as well.

Comments (8)

How would your results be tabulated? Unfortunately the reserve is very small compared to the historical land mass

Which was affected by evolution. What specifically would you want to see happen that would convince critics that your project should be expanded.
Michael k., Lombard, illinois usa
13/06/2019 21:58
I am a conservationist/native plant landscaper in the Midwest Prairie Central Cornbelt Region. These concepts are eyes-opening to other possibilites in other biomes and regions. Thank you!

Why did you pick the Plains Bison over the Wood Bison or Eurasian Bison?
Carl Linman, United States
29/10/2018 09:46
OMG these folks are NUTS ... we cannot reverse warming globally by bringing back extinct animals unless we do it on a global scale and even then it simply makes NO Sense. What will they eat? How will their manure impact CO2 levels. Why not put the $$ to better use to improve the quality of life for the needy and clean up the messes we've already made that has negative impact to the environment?
ericasahara, usa
02/09/2018 12:47
Fantastic vision! I applaud and encourage this effort.
Humans caused the problem and hopefully caring humans may be able to restore it.
Quite an undertaking, massive in fact, but in my mind and heart, well worth the effort.
I would love to know that after I am gone, my great great grandchildren will behold and respect the creatures yet to be born. I hope I will live to see the great and legendary Mammoth like elephant recreated and thrive here.
Christine Brothers, Florida United States
28/07/2018 09:22
I love this project and admire your vision.
Bill O'Malley, Fairbanks, AK United States
25/06/2018 00:06
I want a pet mammoth.
James, Australia
11/06/2018 05:01
So many animals already suffering cruelty in the hands of men or the consequences of men's actions... Oh, my, when will this damned species finally become extinct? How many more animals need to suffer?
Suzana, Sao Paulo/Brazil
31/05/2018 23:36
Fantastic story. I want to go there and help it ti happen
Patricia A. Gothard, Laguna woods CA. USA
31/05/2018 03:03

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