Restoring Bison to the Great Plains

Just back from central Montana where I was working with the team from the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to tag bison with solar ear tags across the Sun Prairie management unit.  Amazing trip and an incredible experience to have my hands on bison.  Phenomenal to see these incredible beasts up close.  Very much looking forward to the day when we can finally say that bison are once again wild and free ranging across the Great Plains.

Getting ready to tag a young bison with a GPS solar tag.  Photo courtesy: Roshan Patel.

As part of efforts to understand how bison use the landscape, we aim to fit as many bison as possible with GPS solar tags.  All credit goes to Hila Shamon, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, that has done all the leg work to purchase the tags.

A mOOvement tag, developed to track the whereabouts of cattle.  Photo credit: Roshan Patel

Devices, developed by an Australian manufacturer (mOOvement), weigh about 30g and have been designed to track the whereabouts of cattle.  However, they can also be affixed to the ear of bison.  We have programmed the devices to collect a GPS position every hour.  Over the 4 day capture and handling procedure, we fitted 89 bison with solar ear tags.  An amazing dataset to start investigating collective movement behavior in the herd.

As you can imagine, handling bison is no simple process.  Animals must first be rounded up so that they can quickly and safely be processed.  Similar to how ranchers handle cattle, bison are pushed through a chute system.  We collected blood for disease testing and in some cases, a fecal sample.  Many thanks to the professionalism of the staff at APR.  No major injuries to man or beast throughout the week.

An aerial perspective of the capture facility. Photo courtesy: Roshan Patel

Long-term Herbivore Changes Across a Kenyan Grassland

Congratulations to Ramiro Crego and colleagues for their recent publication in Biological Conservation to describe long-term changes in herbivore occupancy and richness across the Laikipia plateau in central Kenya.  The analyses incorporates 15 years of aerial survey data, collected by Kenya’s Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS), and highlights the importance of accounting for imperfect detection in results.  As expected, ‘wildlife friendly’ properties had the highest levels of species richness.  High variability in estimates, however, suggests that some pastoral properties also support rich herbivore communities.  Some very interesting results that we hope will be influential in spatial planning across the region.  Thanks to all our co-authors on this effort.

Reintroducing One of the Rarest Antelopes on Earth

Addax are shy, cautious animals that reside in some of the harshest habitats on the planet.  A desert specialist, addax once ranged broadly across the Sahara from Morocco in the west to Egypt and the Nile Valley in the east.  Today, addax are one of the rarest antelopes on the planet, with less than 100 individuals remaining in the wild, persecuted for their hides and meat.

An adult addax, fitted with a GPS collar and ready to be reintroduced back into the wild.
One small step towards repopulating the former habitat range of the species.

With foresight from the Moroccan government and support from the Sahara Conversation Fund, Wild Africa Conservation, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, we have initiated an exciting reintroduction project in Morocco.  In late 2019, we reintroduced 20 addax to a remote area of the Sahara desert.  To facilitate long-term monitoring, 10 animals were fitted with GPS collars.  We will continue to monitor each animal with our Moroccan partners over the next few years, providing information on the movements of each animal and a measure of reintroduction success.  Looking forward to continued efforts with this team to restore this species to the wild.