Three wild female bison introduced to Kent last month are doing “incredibly well”.
These new photos show the trio exploring their new surroundings before a man joins them from Germany in the coming weeks.
Rangers say the group has already formed a family hierarchy, with the matriarch determining who is in charge – and even stepping in when the dominant calf gets “overly pushy”.
Conservationists and baffled experts hailed the £1.12 million scheme as “biodiversity boosting magic”.
And already experts are seeing the impact of the bison in the Wilder Bean project, with the animal’s unique behavior giving plant and animal life new opportunities to thrive.
Bison ranger Tom Gibbs told Metro.co.uk: ‘The bison are doing incredibly well. They find their own food with ease; we have seen them eat birch, oak, sweet chestnut, brambles, bracken and even some heather.
“They’ve even started to debark the conifers, which is fantastic as a main focus of the project is the bison controlling the non-native trees in the forest.”
Bison fur – which, among other things, can be used by nesting birds – is already visible on the trees.
Body-worn cameras from rangers also show the animals exploring the fenced woodland area of West Blean and Thornden Woods, near Canterbury.
“We’re already seeing tracks starting to form and thick vegetation opening up,” continued Tom.
“We come across the wide corridors they’ve made and can see when they’ve stepped on dense areas that have allowed more light to reach the forest floor.”
The unexpected light will provide more opportunities for plants, insects and biodiversity in general, much like the new habitat they create in the trees.
The animals, usually found in North America, have been hailed as “ecosystem engineers”.
It is hoped that they will make the Kent forest more diverse, spread seeds and create wetter areas, which will store carbon and reduce flooding.
They had been close to extinction in Europe until a resurgence in numbers in recent decades.
For people wanting to see the new locals in Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT) advises to keep a safe distance and not be loud.
Viewpoints have been set up, but animal lovers will have to be lucky as to where the bison are at any given time – at least for the foreseeable future.
KWT’s director of conservation, Paul Hadaway, told Metro.co.uk: “To meet the legal requirements for the bison to roam freely, secure fencing has been put up around the bison range … to ensure people don’t close to the animals.
“Although docile in nature, the bison is considered a dangerous animal in British law – although legislation is far more relaxed on the continent where wild bison projects have been going on for 20 years or more.
“Part of this project is about demonstrating to UK decision-makers the need for changes to better reflect the experience of Europe around licensing for this type of project.”
The forest has a number of footpaths, but curious walkers will not be able to come into direct contact with Europe’s largest land mammal.
To avoid interaction and allow the bison to move freely from one section of forest to another, special “bison tunnels” have been built.
They also give people in the area a better vantage point to see their new females – who rangers hope will have calves when their male companion finally arrives after Brexit-related delays.
“We want to limit human interaction with them,” adds Paul.
“(But) the best chance to see a bison is to be quiet.”
Those who manage to catch a glimpse are likely to find the bison in good health, with rangers pleased with their physical progress and interactions as a herd.
Tom explained: “They’re doing well physically too. We have checked their dung, as this is a health indicator, and it shows that they are getting enough fiber and their diet is good.
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“They have a big appetite and have easily obtained what is available to them in the reserve. ‘
He continued: “They have bonded well as a pack.
“The matriarch is in complete control, we have seen her lead the two calves to water and encourage them to explore their new surroundings.
‘The hierarchy is established with one of the young females showing dominance over the more shy female who has one horn. That said, when the more dominant calf is overly pushy, the matriarch steps in – there’s some parenting going on there!
“We couldn’t ask for better individuals, they are everything we hoped for and have settled in well.”
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