The main goal of the European Bison Conservation Center (EBCC) is to coordinate the process of the genetic variability maintenance of the species, and to create a platform of communication between European bison breeders, decision makers, conservationists and other interested parties.
According to Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan for European Bison (IUCN 2004) the main task of International Network is the „coordination of restitution, reintroductions, monitoring of captive and free-ranging herds, and most of all – gene pool preservation, and genetic management of particular herds. This center is supposed to provide all kinds of information, and be available to all interested users, possibly free of charge”.
Therefore there is an urgent need to have better coordination of Action Plan implementation, and bison activities in general, not just from a point of efficiency, exchange of expertise, but also to prevent dangerous, unprofessional activities (e.g. by private owners), that may lead to further losses of important animals, inbreeding, or mixing up of both genetic lines of the species.
The establishment of EBCC will fulfill this gap, and provide a platform for the implementation of the Action Plan, with combination of expertise, databases, international coordination of knowledge and experience exchange. EBCC will set and promote uniform standards, and practices for bison breeding, reintroduction and restoration of free ranging bison populations. To really make the bison restoration into a conservation success for Europe, the emerging and increasing international cooperation, needs to be organized according to uniform standards, to successfully coordinate the efforts towards restoration of this species and its habitats; as a symbol of regaining the wilderness in Europe.
What we need from the breeders?
Taking part in the program is free of charge, but to make the project the most efficient as it is possible required will be:
provision of information about every change in the herd (birth, death and others) as soon as it is possible
agreement to follow: the breeding rules (e.g. not mixing two genetic lines of the species in one enclosure) and advise provided by the Center
collection of tissue samples (blood, hair with follicles, small pieces of dried skin or other tissues), whenever it is possible (e.g. during veterinary manipulations, after anaesthesia for transport purposes, from dead animals etc.) Bank of tissues is important because the most effective genetic evaluation requires supplementing pedigree analyses with results of molecular studies
As EBCC cooperates closely with European Bison Pedigree Book (EBPB), only breeders accepted (i.e. regularly informing about all changes in the herd) by EBPB can profit from the participation in EBCC.
We plan to certify breeders that contribute to save European bison genetic diversity, and in future recommend contacts and animal exchanges only with certified breeders.
The European bison (Bison bonasus) – the largest mammal of Europe, has a status of endangered species according to IUCN Red List, and has been selected as a priority species under EU Habitat Directive. The world population of the European bison slightly exceeding level of 4000 individuals, is divided into two genetically different lines (Lowland and Lowland-Caucasian). A majority of the species is managed in free-living herds but its considerable part is maintained in captivity. Captive breeding plays a very important role in the maintenance of the genetic variability within the species, because most of genetically valuable animals live in breeding centers. More than 200 breeding centers of different kind and size exist in Europe. The number of animals in those centers is around 1200 i.e. 40% of the whole world population. About 60 breeding centers participate in EEP program (European Endangered Species Program under EAZA umbrella) but that covers only 1/3 of the whole world population. Other part of European bison population – free-living herds – needs also very careful genetic and demographic management through planned reintroductions and restocking. It is important to facilitate communication not only among EAZA members, but to involve into the network all people engaged into breeding of this species.
According to Species Action Plan, the long-term conservation program for European bison recovery, should include the continuation of the captive breeding of the species. The captive part of the world-wide population should be managed under the principles of conservation genetics. The program should ensure separation of the pure Lowland and the Lowland-Caucasian lines and avoid hybridization with any other related species. The captive breeding program should foster application of uniform rules aimed at maintaining or increasing genetic variability, and increase the number of herds and local population sizes. Continued should be the process of reintroduction and re-establishment of free-ranging populations into portions of the historical range. It is necessary to link isolated populations in a natural way or stimulate transfers of individuals from one herd to another. It is also very important to transfer all the founder genes represented in the captive world population into free-ranging herds. Coordination of those tasks should be based upon the European Bison Pedigree Book as the source of information. Initiated also should be the Gene Resource Bank (based on semen collection).
Increasing since the last 10 years activities on bison reintroduction and re-establishment of free-ranging bison populations into parts of the historical ecological range should be continued and enhanced, but they need more coordination.
To gradually create self sustainable meta populations, natural areas and habitats will have to be enlarged and bison home ranges have to become connected and linked up. It is necessary to link isolated small populations in a natural way and/or stimulate transfers of individuals from one herd to another. This would facilitate the transfer of still existing founder genes in the captive part of world population into free-ranging herds.
Coordination of those tasks by the EBCC, should be based on a continuously updated database on the situation/composition of free ranging herds and animals held in captivity. For this purpose the European Bison Pedigree Book (EBPB) should be updated and upgraded as the most important source of information. The EPBP should become an integral part of the EBCC database/information management. This EBPB information can later be supplemented and enhanced with the data from the Gene Resource Bank, GRB (based on semen collection), when this data base will be operational. Initiation of the GRB is foreseen in the second phase of the EBCC project.
Tasks for EBCC
EBCC goals could be achieved by detailed tasks:
- Coordination of the ex situ program for the captive part of European bison population (with adoption of rules from EEP program and cooperation with EAZA). Providing information and advice about species genetics using mainly the pedigree data, and an information from molecular studies. Information about an animal which will be available to a breeder are: a genetic line, inbreeding coefficient, kinship value within actually living animals and within the genetic line, contribution of ancestors, as well as its position within the herd and among animals of the particular line. A part of the program will be the collection of information on the status of all animals constituting the species, carrying out demographical and genetic analyses, and preparation of a plan for the future management of the species. The coordinator of the program, together with the Board (elected within breeders and important partners), will every year prepare recommendations on which animals should take part in breeding, which individual animals should be transferred from one place to another etc.
Establishment of website presenting information about current E. bison numbers, breeding centers, reintroduction projects (with login part for breeders), and facilitating communication between breeders, experts and other interested parties.
Collecting the information about surplus animals and individuals necessary for particular breeding centres, and advising on the optimal way of E. bison management.
Providing information about the species, its biology, ecology, veterinary treatment, possible impact on the environment, etc.
Providing expertise for actual breeders and potential breeders – advising on technical aspects of European bison breeding, including: enclosure area, facilities, vegetation, group size and composition; scope of veterinary care; means and conditions of transportation. For this task the center will hire specialists from various fields of knowledge and countries. The range of expertise will cover various conditions (captivity, semi-free and free herds), organization of breeding, veterinary treatment etc.
Preparing educational materials for all kind of audience (brochures, books, games, etc.) about European bison conservation within the framework of nature protection.
Organizing meetings and technical conferences about the European bison and its conservation.
Working out the procedures of breeder certification as well as project evaluation.
Initiation of the Gene Resource Bank
An European Bison Conservation Center (EBCC) is created to establish an effective means of communication between breeders, Bison Specialist Group members, scientists, policy makers and the public. The center will coordinate conservation activities and provide information about standard breeding practices, conservation genetics and other issues (list of tasks). The Center already started to work (September 2007) at the University of Life Sciences in Warsaw. The coordinated global program for European bison which is the extension of previous EEP was announced during last EAZA meeting. This global program will help all breeders, not only EAZA members. Also the IUCN was informed about the fact that the EBCC started to operate as an implementation of recommended action within the Species Action Plan.
Main office is already placed at Warsaw University of Life Sciences – SGGW (Poland), where in the end of 2007 EBCC was established. It aims to supervise and coordinate work of the whole program in fulfilling mentioned above goals and plans.
Board of partners;
The Board of partners – group of people, who represent institutions involved in the process of European bison restitution – like breeders, NGOs, scientists. The size of Board will be 9-11 person with Chair elected by the Board itself.
The Board obligation will be
Work out general policy of EBCC, priorities, actions, etc.
Fundraising for EBCC
Monitor current activities of EBCC on the basis of e-mail communication.
Meet once a year to evaluate the past and discuss the future activities of EBCC
The members of the Board will work voluntary (until the financial situation of EBCC will improve)
The chair of the Warsaw office of EBCC, as well as chairs of regional offices, will be obligatory members of the Board.
Regional centers will be established to operate in various regions, and will closely cooperate with the main office. It is assumed that at least 4-5 such regional partners should be organized – for example: The Netherlands (Amsterdam), Germany (one of old breeding centers), Romania, Scandinavia, Spain etc.
The tasks for regional centers are:
coordination of animal transport within the region
comunication with breeders in the region
collection of data from breeders in the region
contacts with local authorities
recruitment of new breeders
education and PR in the region
The website presents information about animals from various herds. Full genetic information is available after logging-in. The genetic profile of animals will include line, contribution of founders genes, inbreeding value, relationship to other animals and some DNA results. The demographic analysis will be prepared as a basis for recommendation for exchanges among captive breeding centers, and to provide the list of most genetically valuable animals.
The information provided by the EBCC, regarding the genetic importance and value of every animal, will be obtained through detailed pedigree analysis, allowing to assess the relationships between particular animals and between various herds. This kind of information could be also useful for reintroduction and restocking projects in various parts of Europe. The Center will also help in collecting samples from breeders for DNA analysis.
Network members will be provided with current information about the value of individual animals, best breeding strategies, recommended exchanges and transfers. The project will be placed under umbrella of Bison Specialist Group SSC/IUCN and will cooperate with EAZA. Close cooperation with International Pedigree Book will be crucial for this project.
Initial funding for the setting up of the EBCC will be provided by European Bison Friends Society. Funding for further development of EBCC have to be supported by external fundraising with help of the Board of partners.
With professional advice and acting network, efforts towards species conservation will be more effective. Especially important is the development of international co-operation. There are already recorded symptoms of inbred like lowered resistance to diseases, and reproduction rate, which may indicate that the existence of some present captive herds and wild populations is threatened, and in the result some unique genes from the gene pool of the species can be lost. There is a growing interest in bison breeding by private owners, and in the introduction of the species to protected areas in many European countries.
Establishment of a network of bison breeders, managers, scientists and conservationists to effectively exchange and disseminate information on bison breeding and conservation seems to be essential.
The activities of the center should result in lower rate of genetic variability losses in European bison population, and better use of resources. Increased should be the awareness among policy and decisions makers about the importance of international cooperation for the future of the species, which may result in changes of legal status of the species in Europe.
Department of Animal Genetics, Warsaw University of Life Sciences – SGGW, carried out the co-ordination of EEP program and actions related to bison breeding and exchange within Poland in last 10 years. The project will create a chance to extend such co-ordination to other European countries, and will strengthen the present analytic and advisory structure, necessary for the continuation of effective conservation of the species.
Bison Specialist Group IUCN/SSC, Department of Genetics and Animal Breeding WULS, Carpathian Bison Restoration Project, EEP Program (EAZA), European Bison Friends Society, Large Herbivore Foundation, breeders from different European countries.