- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A barge carrying 12 wood bison is making a four-day trip down the Tanana and Yukon rivers to reunite the animals with a herd transplanted earlier this spring near Shageluk.

The moving of the massive bulls is a one of the last steps in a plan to re-establish North America’s largest land mammal on U.S. soil. The country’s last wood bison, which are larger than plains bison, disappeared in Alaska more than a century ago.

The project has taken more than 20 years. Wood bison from Canada were imported to Alaska in 2008 and staged at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage until details for reintroduction could be worked out, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://bit.ly/1LCgJiK) reported.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, with help from corporate sponsors, in March flew about 100 cows and calves to Shageluk. They were penned for about 10 days to allow them to become acclimated and then set free April 3 to feeding areas in the Innoko River area.

The bulls, which can weigh more than a ton, were not immediately needed.

“Bulls really wouldn’t play a role (in the herd) until breeding season,” Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms said.

She said they had more time to find a way to get the bulls there.

A crew in Portage tranquilized each bull before using a forklift to move them into the shipping containers.

On Saturday, the 12 bulls were trucked up the Seward and Parks highways to Nenana.

“There’s no way we can handle the bulls safely the way the cows and calves were,” Harms said. “We had to have them anesthetized.”

Two Fish and Game biologists are accompanying the bulls on the barge. A key consideration is overheating. Each container carries an air conditioning unit, and the biologists can cool them with water from a hose.

In June, 16 more bulls will be delivered by truck and barge from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Breeding season usually starts in July.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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