The first of 100 wood bison aimed at re-establishing a species that went extinct more than a century ago in Alaska were flown to a rural village over the weekend ahead of a return to the wild. The 30 juveniles were loaded into specially designed "bison boxes" and trucked from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage to Anchorage before being flown to Shageluk, about an hour away. In several weeks, after 70 more wood bison reach Shageluk, and after they've become acclimated, they will be released as a group into the Inoko Flats, one of the areas of Alaska where wood bison once roamed. The group will include 25 pregnant females; wood bison tend to establish a connection to places where they give birth, a biologist says.
The director of the conservation center says restoring an animal to its native habitat is an opportunity that doesn't come often. "It's such an opportunity to go back in time and right a wrong. We as people never get a chance to do that, but in this case, they did. And today's the day we correct that mistake," he says. Wood bison are native to Alaska and Canada. They're North America's largest land mammal and are bigger than the plains bison found in the Lower 48. The herd will be closely monitored for the first couple of years, authorities say, and hunting may resume when the herd reaches 300 or 400 animals. (Read more bison stories.)