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Pleistocene Park (Russian: Плейстоценовый парк) is a nature reserve on the Kolyma River south of Chersky in Yakutia, Russia in northeastern Siberia, where an attempt is being made to recreate the northern subarctic steppe grassland ecosystem that flourished in the area during the last ice age.
The aim of Pleistocene Park is to recreate the ancient taiga/tundra grasslands that were widespread in the region during the last ice age. The key concept is that animals, more than temperature, maintained that ecosystem. This argument is the justification for rewilding Pleistocene Park's landscape with megafauna that was previously abundant in the area, as evidenced by the fossil record.
Background: regional Pleistocene ecoregions
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It has been proposed that the introduction of a variety of large herbivores will recreate their ancient ecological niches in Siberia and regenerate the Pleistocene terrain with its different ecological habitats such as taiga, tundra, steppe and alpine terrain.
The main object, however, is to recreate the extensive grasslands that covered the Beringia region in the late Pleistocene. This form of grassland (which is also known as mammoth steppe) was inhabited by a diverse set of large and medium herbivores. Back in the Pleistocene the area was populated by many species of grazers which assembled in large herds similar in size to those in Africa today. Species that roamed the great grasslands included the woolly mammoth, woolly rhino, steppe wisent, Lena horse, muskox, and reindeer.
Another herbivore which during the Pleistocene was abundant in this region but now faces possible extinction in its remaining habitats is the saiga antelope, which can form massive herds that keep the vegetation down.
At the edges of these large stretches of grassland could be found more shrub-like terrain and dry conifer forests (similar to taiga). In this terrain the browsers of the Pleistocene were to be found. This group of megafauna included woolly rhinoceros, moose, wapiti, Yukon wild ass, and camels. The more mountainous terrain was occupied by several species of mountain-going animals like the snow sheep.
Back in the Pleistocene there was also a great variety of carnivores as well. On the plains there were prides of Beringian cave lion. These large cats were the apex predators of the region, but also shared their habitat with other predators such as grey wolf, cave hyena, Homotherium, brown bear, wolverine, and arctic fox.
In present day Siberia only a few of the former species of megafauna are left, and their population density is extremely low, too low to have an impact on the environment. To reach the desired effects, the density has to be raised artificially by fencing in and concentrating the existing large herbivores. A large variety of species is important as each species has a different impact on the environment and as the overall stability of the ecosystem increases with the variety of species (compare Biodiversity#Biodiversity and ecological services). Their numbers will be raised by reintroducing species which went locally extinct (e. g. muskoxen). For species that went completely extinct, suitable replacements will be introduced if possible (e. g. wild Bactrian camels for the extinct Pleistocene camels). As the number of herbivores increases, the enclosure will be expanded.
While this is taking place, the effects will be monitored. This concerns for example the effects on the fauna (are the mosses being replaced by grasses, etc.), the effects on the atmosphere (changes in levels of methane, carbon dioxide, water vapor) and the effects on the permafrost.
Progress and plans
In 1996 a 50 ha (125 acre) enclosure was built in Pleistocene Park. As a first step in recreating the ancient landscape, Yakutian horses were introduced, as horses had been the most abundant ungulates on the northeastern Siberian mammoth steppe. Of the first 40 horses, 15 were killed by predators and 12 died of eating poisonous plants. More horses were imported, and they learned to cope with the environment. In 2006 approximately 20 horses lived in the park, and by 2007 more horses were being born annually than died. Moose, present in the area, were also introduced. The effects of large animals (mammoths and wisents) on nature were artificially created by using an engineereing tank and an 8-wheel drive Argo all-terrain vehicle to crush pathways through the willow shrub. The vegetation in the park started to change. In the areas where the horses grazed, mosses, weeds and willow shrub were replaced by grasses. The permafrost was also influenced by the grazers. When air temperature sank to –40 °C (–40 °F) in winter, the temperature of the ground was found to be only –5 °C (+23 °F) under an intact cover of snow, but –30 °C (–22 °F) where the animals had trampled down the snow. The grazers thus help keep permafrost intact, thereby lessening global warming.
The new enclosure finally allowed a more rapid development of the project. After the fence was completed, reindeer were brought into the park from herds in the region and are now the most numerous ungulates in the park. To increase moose density in the park, special constructions were added to the fence in several places which allow animals outside the fenced area to enter the park, while not allowing them to leave. Besides that, wild moose calves were caught in other regions and transported to the park.
In September 2010 the muskox was reintroduced. Six animals were imported from Wrangel Island, one of which died after a few weeks. Seven months later, in April 2011, six Altai wapitis and five wisents arrived at the park, the wapitis originating from the Altai mountains and the wisents from Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve near Moscow.
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The most controversial aspect of the reintroduction of species to the park are the carnivores. Most of these species are however already present in the region such as grey wolf, wolverines, Eurasian lynx, red fox and Eurasian brown bear. However there have been suggestions for the rewilding of more Pleistocene-like carnivores as there is a need for large carnivores to keep control over growing populations of herbivores. Suggestions include reintroducing the Siberian tiger which was present in the area up until prehistoric times and which is now facing a bitter struggle for survival in a small habitat on the eastern coast of Russia. Another carnivore possible for reintroduction is the spotted hyena, of which the famous cave hyena was a subspecies. The former range of the spotted hyena extended to nearly all of Eurasia and Africa, but the eradication of grasslands pushed back the spotted hyenas to Africa. Another candidate is the Amur Leopard, whose former historical range extended over Yakutia and the Russian Far East, but now only remains in small areas of the Primorye region of Russia. It is very endangered and would be an important predator for the vegetation on the edges of the grasslands.
Perhaps the most controversial of all reintroductions is that of the Asiatic lion which is on the verge of extinction, surviving only in a small reservation in the Gir region of west India. Lions were once one of the most widespread of all species inhabiting all of the world's continents except Australia and Antarctica. Evidence of this is widespread with the existence of fossils from the European lion, the cave lion, the Beringian cave lion and the American lion. Evidence of lions surviving Siberian winter temperatures can be found in the famous zoo of Novosibirsk, which has kept African lions in outdoor enclosures year-round since the 1950s. This proves that the concept of introducing wild animals to different climates than their native range is possible. Lions lived side by side with people for several millennia and it is only recently that many of them disappeared. The Romans and Greeks for instance reported the existence of lions in the Balkan mountains and northern Greece as recently as 100 AD. These dangerous but beautiful creatures roamed the northern grasslands of Russia with other large species of animals, some of which survive today, and many that do not, such as moose, reindeer, cave bear, cave hyena, Siberian roe deer, woolly rhinoceros, Siberian tiger, Amur leopard, Homotherium, steppe wisent, Irish elk, saiga antelope, muskox, Elasmotherium, yak, woolly mammoth, snow sheep, wolverine, Eurasian lynx and all the other smaller animals which in total comprise the massive richness of Siberian biodiversity.
The ideas are not however entirely restricted to existing megafauna. There are hopes that one day cloning technology will be advanced enough to recreate a woolly mammoth, a species which became extinct at the end of the last ice age. Recent evidence however suggests that they may have survived into the Holocene with isolated populations of dwarfed individuals surviving on remote islands in the arctic circle such as Saint Paul Island and Wrangel Island, both of which are situated very close to the location of Pleistocene Park. Evidence points out that these populations could have existed as recently as 1700 BC. Another candidate for cloning could be the woolly rhinoceros.
Size and administration
Pleistocene Park is a 160 km2 scientific nature reserve (zakaznik) consisting of willow brush, grasslands, swamps, forests and a multitude of lakes. It is owned and administered by a non-profit corporation, Pleistocene Park Association, consisting of the ecologists from the Northeast Science Station in Chersky and the Grassland Institute in Yakutsk. The reserve is surrounded by a 600 km2 buffer zone that will be added to the park by the regional government once the animals have successfully established themselves.
- (More animals (without proper references) listed on the talk page.)
Animals already present in the park:
- Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx): Present before the project started. It is an important predator of medium-sized herbivores like hares and roe deer.
- Tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus): Present before the project started. A subspecies of the grey wolf widespread from northern Scandinavia to the Kamchatka Peninsula.
- Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus): Present before the project started. Well adapted to living in the arctic environment, its fur changes color with the season: white in winter, brown in summer.
- Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos): Present before the project started. Currently the largest predator in the region.
- Wolverine (Gulo gulo): Present before the project started. A stocky and muscular carnivore, the wolverine is a powerful and versatile predator and scavenger.
- Red fox (Vulpes vulpes): Present before the project started. Red foxes are omnivores with a highly varied diet. In the former Soviet Union, up to 300 animals and a few dozen plant species are known to be consumed by them.
- Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus): Present before the project started. Reindeer are the most numerous animals in the park. They mainly graze in the southern highlands of the park. This territory is not affected by spring flooding and dominated by larch forests and shrubland. Reindeer rarely visit the flood plain. Besides actively grazing (especially in winter) they browse on willow shrubs, tree moss and lichens.
- Moose (Alces alces): Present before the project started, although in low numbers. Immigration from neighboring areas is stimulated. Due to poaching the density of moose in the region has substantially decreased in the last 20 years. To increase moose density in the park, special constructions were added to the fence in several places which allow animals outside the fenced area to enter the park, while not allowing them to leave. Besides that wild moose calves are being caught in other regions and tranported to the park. It is the largest extant species of the deer family and one of the largest herbivores in the park today.
- Yakutian horse (a strain of Equus ferus caballus): Imported from the surrounding Srednekolymsk region beginning in 1988. These animals are smaller than normal horses and grow long hair for the winter season to help them survive the cold winter. These are purely grazing animals – they eat only grass species, and visit the park′s forests only during the spring flood.
- Muskox (Ovibos moschatus): Muskoxen arrived at the Park in September 2010. They were brought from Wrangel Island (itself repopulated with animals from North America). There are plans to import several more muskoxen in 2013 or 2014. Compared with Wrangel Island the food base in the Park is very good for muskoxen. So far they are doing well and show no signs of body weight loss.
- Altai wapiti or Altai maral (Cervus canadensis sibiricus): Introduced in April 2011. The wapiti made their way to the park all the way from the mountainous regions of Altai in central southern Siberia. Wapiti are very good jumpers. The park′s fence has a hard time keeping them inside. The concentrated forage within the park is a much better incentive for them to stay.
- Wisent (European bison, Bison bonasus): Introduced in April 2011. The wisents were brought to the park from the Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve near Moscow. The route was more complicated than was originally thought and took longer. But all the animals recovered rapidly after the trip and feel good in the park. The wisents were released into the larger fenced area after spending two weeks in the small paddock. Wisents seem to be able to eat everything. Of course most like carrots, but they are happy to eat old willow branches, dry grass and even pieces of wooden feeding rack. Yakutian horses are dominant over the wisent and wisent often flee from them.
- The largest non-ungulate herbivores to be found in the park are the snow hare (Lepus timidus), the black-capped marmot (Marmota camtschatica), and the arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii).
Animals considered or suggested for reintroduction:
- Yak (Bos mutus): Could be brought from the Tibetan Plateau. Along with the wisent and the reindeer, the species could contribute to the further proliferation of grasses in the region.
- Snow sheep (Ovis nivicola): Immigration from neighboring areas is encouraged.
- Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica): Introduction is in the planning stage. Its presence would be critical for the regulation of poisonous plants in the region that can be digested by the saiga but are harmful to other herbivores. Currently, free saigas can only be found in Russia in the Chyornye Zemli Nature Reserve.
- Wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus): The Bactrian camel could act as a proxy for extinct Pleistocene camel species, whose fossils have been found in areas that once formed part of Beringia. The wild form of the species is critically endangered and is only found in some few areas of China and Mongolia.
- Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus): Immigration from neighboring areas is encouraged.
- Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica): Introduction planned for a later stage, when herbivores have multiplied. Endangered and reduced to the Primorye region. As the largest feline alive, the Siberian tiger could play a key role in regulating the numbers of the largest herbivores.
- Asian lion (Panthera leo persica) or Transvaal lion (P. l. krugeri): The introduction of lions to the park is deemed controversial. Asian lions, endangered and reduced to the Gir forest in India, ranged as far as Hungary in the early Holocene and are both the northernmost and only subspecies of modern lion to exist out of Africa. However, genetic testing has shown that the cave lions that inhabited northern Eurasia before them were as much related to African as to Asian lions. Transvaal lions might therefore be another candidate on the basis that they sometimes produce leucistic individuals which, while not favored in their native South Africa, might have an advantage hunting in the snowy Siberian winter.
- Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis): The Amur leopard would hunt in the shrubs and forests on the edges of the grasslands. It is the northernmost ranged leopard and known to adapt to almost any habitat that provides it with sufficient food and cover.  It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and currently inhabits only the southern tip of Primorsky Krai.
- Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta): Would be introduced as a primary predator and robust scavenger on the plains. Its former range was not only almost all of Africa, but went from Spain to the Russian Far East. Its DNA is very similar to the cave hyenas (its larger subspecies) that once roamed the siberian grasslands, and the current hyena would serve a good proxy.
Animals that could be placed in the park in the event of being ′resurrected′ from extinction:
- Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius): In January 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that a team of scientists from Kyoto University were planning to extract DNA from a mammoth carcass preserved in a Russian laboratory and insert it into egg cells of African elephants in hope of creating a mammoth embryo. If the experiment succeeded, the calf would be taken to the park along with others to form a wild population. The researchers claimed that their aim was to produce the first mammoth within six years.
- In 2005, ecologist Josh Donlan, from Cornell University, proposed Pleistocene rewilding on the North American great plains in 50 years. Proposed species include the Bolson Tortoise, feral and wild equids (Przewalski's Horse, Onager, Burro, Mustang), camelids (Dromedary, Bactrian Camel, Guanaco, Vicuna), Cheetahs, Lions, Saiga Antelope, Mountain Tapir, Asian Elephant, and African Elephant.
- In 2011, the 'Rewilding Europe' initiative was established with the aim of rewilding 10 million hectares of land in the Western Iberian Peninsula, Velebit, the Carpathians and the Danube delta by 2020. For the time being, the project only considers expanding the ranges of species that are still present in Europe, such as the Iberian Lynx, Eurasian Lynx, Wolf, European Jackal, Brown Bear, Chamois, Spanish Ibex, Wisent, Red Deer, Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Great White Pelican and Horned Viper, along with releases of primitive breeds of domestic horse and cattle as proxies for the extinct Tarpan and Aurochs. Since 2012, Rewilding Europe is heavily involved in the Tauros programme, a breeding project with the aim of recreating cattle with the genotype of the aurochs, to be used in rewilding instead of domestic cattle. Europe also had large amounts of even bigger megafauna during the Pleistocene: Creatures like rhinoceroses, elephants, hippopotami, lions, leopards, and hyenas could be introduced, besides expanding the populations of musk oxen (reintroduced to Scandinavia in the 20th century) and reindeer.
- Unrelated to the Rewilding Europe initiative, the small village of San Cebrián de Mudá (190 inhabitants) in Palencia, northern Spain released 18 European bisons (a species extinct in Spain since the Middle Ages) between 2010 and 2011 in a natural area already inhabited by Roe Deer, Wild Boar, Red Fox and Gray Wolf, as the first stone in the creation of a 240 hectares "Quaternary Park". Three Przewalski horses from the breeding center in Le Villaret, France joined them in October 2012. Onagers and "aurochs" are planned to follow. On 11 April 2013, eight European bison (one male, five females and two calves) were released into the wild in the Bad Berleburg region of Germany, after 300 years of absence since the species became extinct in that region.
- Sergey A. Zimov (2005): ″Pleistocene Park: Return of the Mammoth’s Ecosystem.″ In: Science, 6 May 2005, vol. 308, no. 5723, pp. 796–798. Accessed 5 May 2013.
- Aleksandr Markov (2006): ″Good Fence for Future Mammoth Steppes.″ Translated by Anna Kizilova. Russia-InfoCentre website, 21 January 2007. Accessed 5 May 2013.
- Sergei Zimov (2007): ″Mammoth Steppes and Future Climate.″ In: Science in Russia, 2007, pp. 105–112. Article found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Materials. Accessed 5 May 2013.
- Adam Wolf (2008): ″The Big Thaw.″ In: Stanford Magazine, Sept.–Oct. 2008, pp. 63–69. Accessed 7 May 2013. – PDF of print version, found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Materials. Accessed 7 May 2013.
- Arthur Max (2010): ″Russian Scientist Working To Recreate Ice Age Ecosystem.″ In: The Huffington Post, 27 November 2010. Accessed 7 May 2013.
- Martin W. Lewis (2012): ″Pleistocene Park: The Regeneration of the Mammoth Steppe?″ and ″Pleistocene Re-Wilding: Environmental Restoration or Ecological Heresy?″ In: GeoCurrents, 12 respectively 14 April 2012. Accessed 2 May 2013.
- Damira Davletyarova (2013): ″The Zimovs: Restoration of the Mammoth-Era Ecosystem, and Reversing Global Warming.″ In: Ottawa life Magazine, 11 Februar 2013. Accessed 6 June 2013.
- Eugene Potapov (2012): Pleistocene Park. Video, 7:11 min., uploaded 21 October 2012. Accessed 23 April 2013.
- "Pleistocene Park Underway: Home for Reborn Mammoths?", National Geographic, May 17, 2005, retrieved 2009-04-20, ""... During the last ice age northeastern Siberia remained a grassy refuge for scores of animals, including bison and woolly mammoths. Then, about 10,000 years ago, this vast ecosystem disappeared as the Ice Age ended. Now, though, the Ice Age landscape is on its way back, with a little help from the Russian scientists who have established "Pleistocene Park." ..."
- Anna Meyer (2005), Hunting the double helix: how DNA is solving puzzles of the past, Allen & Unwin, ISBN 1-74114-107-9, retrieved 2009-04-20, "... lies in the work of a Russian ecologist, Sergei Zimov, who hopes to recreate a ′mammoth steppe′ in north-east Siberia, part of a ′Pleistocene Park′. Work on the project has begun, and so far there are horses, moose, reindeer and bison in the park. These animals are removing mosses and shrubs, ..."
- Sergey A. Zimov (6 May 2005). "Pleistocene Park: Return of the Mammoth’s Ecosystem". Science; pp. 796–798. Article also to be found in www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Materials. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Sergei Zimov (2007). "Mammoth Steppes and Future Climate". Science in Russia; pp. 105–112. Article found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Materials. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Scientific background.
- Arthur Max (27 November 2010). "Russian Scientist Working To Recreate Ice Age Ecosystem". The Huffington Post. Article found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Media about us. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- Damira Davletyarova (11 Februar 2013). "The Zimovs: Restoration of the Mammoth-Era Ecosystem, and Reversing Global Warming". Ottawa life Magazine. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
- Gennady G. Boeskorov (2004). "The North of Eastern Siberia; Refuge of Mammoth Fauna in the Holocene". Gondwana Research, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 451–455. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
- Александр Костинский, Александр Марков (Aleksandr Kostinskiy, Aleksandr Markov) (2006). "В Сибирской тундре воссоздается экосистема, погибшая 12 тысяч лет назад". Радио Свобода, 21 December 2006. – Printversion of an interview with Sergey Zimov aired by Radio Svoboda on 15 December 2006 –. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – The Park
- Mark Paricio (20 July 2012). "Pleistocene Park". The Polaris Project. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- Adam Wolf (Sept.–Oct. 2008). "The Big Thaw". Stanford Magazine: 63–69. Article found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Materials. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- Александр Марков (Aleksandr Markov) (6 December 2006). "Хороший забор — главное условие восстановления мамонтовых степей". Элементы. Article found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Media about us. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Homepage
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Reindeer
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Moose
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – the monitoring tower
- Diary of Nikita Zimov during the trip to Wrangel Island in August-September 2010 (In Russian)
- www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – News: April 24, 2011 — Wapiti and Bisons have arrived to the Park
- Martin W. Lewis (12 April 2012). "Pleistocene Park: The Regeneration of the Mammoth Steppe?". GeoCurrents. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- Lidia Kruglova (2 May 2011). "Pleistocene Park: so far without mammoths". Voice of Russia. Article also to be found in www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Media about us. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Vratislav Mazák: Der Tiger. Westarp Wissenschaften; Auflage: 5 (April 2004), unveränd. Aufl. von 1983 ISBN 3-89432-759-6 (S. 196 ff.)
- WWF: ″Priority Species – Amur Leopard.″
- Brad Lendon (17 January 2011). "Scientists trying to clone, resurrect extinct mammoth". CNN news blog. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
- Rewilding Europe: The comeback of the European icon. RewildingEurope.com-news article, 8 November 2012. Accessed on 23 April 2013.
- Bison return to Germany after 300 year absence. Mongabay.com