Four startled bison backed out of their travelling crates, looked around suspiciously, then strolled contentedly across the field. Finally, they were home, home on the range where they had been declared nearly extinct.
The big shaggy two-year-olds, who look much like the American buffalo, had been driven 1,600km from a nature reserve in the Moscow region to south-west Russia, where the European bison had roamed for centuries in the North Caucasus mountains.
They had been raised by the World Wildlife Fund, known simply as WWF in Russia, and brought there on a rainy day in October in yet another attempt by man to undo the damage he has done to the world around him. The European bison had disappeared here in 1927, was brought back in the 1970s, then killed off again in the 1990s when the people of this region, called the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, were thrown into poverty after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This bison meat is no gift to the palate. But people were hungry and ate them.