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© WWF Azerbaijan
Return of the European Bison to the Caucasus

The European Bison, also called the Wisent, is Europe’s largest native land mammal and was historicallydistributed throughout western, central and southeastern Europe, extending to Russia’s Volga River and down to the Caucasus. Due habitat destruction and intense hunting, the Bison was close to extinction in the 1920s. Today, various wisent reintroduction programmes are under way in throughout the world. 
In 2012, the European Bison was chosen as an iconic species for conservation in Azerbaijan and in 2012, Shahdag National Park in northeastern Azerbaijan was selected for the WWF’s European Bison reintroduction programme. The park covers 130,000 hectares and a variety of ecosystems, mainly montane forests and alpine meadows, and was selected because of these habitats, its status as a protected area and the availability of field staff to monitor and protect the Bison. 
A new reintroduction initiative started in 2019 in a joint effort of the Azerbaijan Government, IDEA and WWF through the TJS and was designed in accordance with the IUCN guidelines for reintroduction. The project aims to establish a founder population of Bison in the Shahdag National Park, ultimately establishing a viable, self-sustaining, free-ranging population (or connected populations) of European Bison in the eastern part of the Greater Caucasus. 
In May 2019, the 12 Bisons from zoos in Germany, France and Belgium were released into the core zone of the national park where about 40,000 hectares have been protected since 1969. By supporting the establishment of a founder population of at least 100 animals at the chosen site, this population will have the potential to expand into a larger free-ranging population. WWF is working with locals and partner organisations for the long-term protection of free-ranging European Bison populations through law enforcement, community outreach and involvement, awareness raising and effective protection measures.