“Pleistocene Park is a starting point. If you want to create an ecosystem big enough to have an impact on the climate, you need people to understand that they have a role to play.” – New York Times
“A father and son’s quixotic quest to bring back a lost ecosystem—and save the world.'” -Science Magazine
“If Nikita has his way, Pleistocene Park will spread across Arctic Siberia and into North America, helping to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost.” – The Atlantic
From Nikita Zimov, director of the Pleistocene Park.
Arctic permafrost is melting. It will trigger catastrophic global warming. We’re creating a northern Serengeti to stop that from happening.
Pleistocene Park is a proof of concept, a public demonstration, a landscape scale art project and a philosophy of rational co-existence between humans and nature.
Here in the most remote corner of Siberia my father, Sergey Zimov, and I are reviving the ice age “Mammoth Steppe” ecosystem. Re-wilding this vast area of the Arctic will not only create a northern Serengeti, but most importantly, today, is a vital tool to mitigate global climate change. As climate warms, permafrost here in the Arctic is starting to melt. It will soon unlock huge carbon stocks and trigger a catastrophic global warming feedback loop. Natural grasslands, maintained by numerous grazing animals, have the capacity to both slow climate warming and prevent permafrost from melting.
We’ve already starting transforming the land, with our real world prototype.
For the past 20 years my family has spent a big portion of our time and all available finances to create Pleistocene Park. Currently we have over 90 large herbivores in the Park, including cold adapted Yakutian horses, moose, musk ox, reindeer, wisent, yaks and sheeps. These animals have shown that it is possible to transform ecosystems and reestablish high productivity grasslands by reintroducing large herbivores.
We have fenced 20 square kilometers of land, built infrastructure and installed monitoring equipment. To bring animals to the Park we have mounted extreme expeditions ourselves. We traveled by small boat through the Arctic Ocean to Wrangel Island and from the Mongolian border with a 4×4 military transport truck, driving thousands of kilometers on frozen rivers through roadless wilderness.
To stand a chance of mitigating global warming on a much bigger scale we need your help to take the park to the next level!
However, for mitigating global warming, the size of the Park is not enough. This crowdfunding campaign is one of our first attempts to invite other people to participate in our project and an important step towards turning the modern Arctic into a northern Serengeti and stop permafrost degradation on a big scale.
Join us in creating a world where we harness nature to protect the planet we live on.
Last year we ran a crowdfunding campaign to bring yaks and bison to Pleistocene Park. With the help of 750 backers we successfully raised $106,000. In June we traveled more than 6000 miles by truck and river barge, through some of the most remote territory on earth, to transport 10 yaks to their new home. We spent the fall and winter looking for bison. The best bison we found is a herd owned by a Native American tribe in Alaska. We bought 12 baby bison there. Dr Michelle Oakley (famous from the National Geographic show “Yukon Vet”) performed the veterinary testing necessary for export.
Quarantine requirements will be over and the bison will be ready to travel early next month. We are chartering a Canadian cargo plane to fly from Fairbanks Alaska across the Bering Straits to Pleistocene Park in Siberia. Chartering the plane alone costs $130,000 making this the most expensive expedition we have ever undertaken to bring animals to Pleistocene Park. We are running this, our second crowdfunding campaign, to raise money to pay for this airplane to carry our bison to Pleistocene Park.
Our 12 baby bison are in Alaska, waiting to travel to the Pleistocene Park. Please support this campaign and let bison come back to Siberian Arctic for the first time in 10,000 years.
Location of the Pleistocene Park
What is Pleistocene Park reviving?
During the last Ice Age, steppes with millions of mammoths, bison, horses, reindeers, tigers, wolves and numerous other animals occupied vast landscapes, spanning from Spain to Canada and from the Arctic islands to China.
Being the world biggest biome, mammoth steppe was as productive as the modern African savannah. These remains we collected on 1 hectare of eroded permafrost. Almost 30 big herbivores were roaming on each square kilometer of these endless pastures.
These vast herds maintained their pastures by cycling nutrients, promoting grass and herb growth, and dramatically increasing the productivity of the pastures. Looking at the modern low productive vegetation and few animals in the Arctic, it is hardly possible for people to imagine, such animal densities could exist in this place in the past. With the end the last Ice Age, the first humans came to this place and quickly killed most animals, driving many species extinct, and destroying the fragile symbiosis between plants and animals. Without herbivores, grasses could not compete with moss or shrubs. A few centuries later this ecosystem was gone. Now, for the first time in 10,000 years, we are bringing together animals which once roamed this place. Unfortunately not all the species made it to modern times, but we are trying to collect an animal assemblage which would restore the ecological function of the Mammoth Steppe.
The Arctic is rapidly getting warmer and permafrost is starting to thaw. On a local scale it means destruction of houses, roads and power lines. In addition, it means death to all modern Arctic ecosystems – the ground collapses, trees topple, canyons and depressions form, and Arctic rivers turn into mud flows with the destruction of fish populations.
However, the global impact of permafrost degradation is even greater. Permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws microbes transform this organic material into carbon dioxide and methane, creating a massive source of greenhouse gases, thus amplifying global warming to an even greater extent.
Melting permafrost at Duvanii Yar. On the right you can see 30,000 year old roots of grass that will decompose and contribute to global warming.
Methane bubbles from degrading permafrost trapped under ice (left). My father lighting methane on fire (right)
How can restoring a lost Ice Age ecosystem mitigate global warming?
There are several mechanisms by which great herds of herbivores, once again roaming the Arctic, can cool the climate and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- Animals will prevent permafrost from melting. To make permafrost colder, all that is needed is to remove heat insulating snow cover, and expose the ground to the extreme negative temperatures of the Arctic. In the steppe ecosystems, animal density is so high that animals looking for forage trample all the snow in the pastures several times per winter. This compacts the snow, massively reducing its heat insulating abilities.
This shows how animals trample snow and reduce its insulating value, making the soil colder
- Grasses through the process of photosynthesis absorb carbon dioxide (strong greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere and preserve it in the form of roots. Cold Arctic soils assure that decomposition is low and roots do not decay for decades, centuries, or millennia. This creates a small but sustainable mechanism to partially absorb human emissions of greenhouse gases. The size of this is of course much smaller than our current human impact, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
- Vast steppes allow direct cooling of the climate by increasing surface reflectance. Grasslands are much lighter in color than shrublands and forests. Therefore, they reflect a greater portion of direct sunlight energy back into space without transforming it into heat (albedo effect). This effect is especially pronounced in the early spring, when the sun is already active in the Arctic – dark forests absorb heat, while steppes are covered with snow and remain white. This is also why the Arctic Ocean is warming as the Polar ice caps melt.
Difference in colour between grasslands and forest in different seasons.
These animated slides showing ecological effects of promoting steppes, was kindly provided by Revive & Restore, designed by Ben J. Novak
Why is Pleistocene Park asking for crowdfunding help?
Up to this date, Pleistocene Park was an experiment created mostly from the labor and funds of my father, my family and me, which we obtained from running the remote Arctic research station.
However, if we want to create a tool that will help us mitigate global warming, we have to take the Park to a totally different level. For that we need other people to participate in our project. For this purpose we have established the Pleistocene Park Foundation, Inc, which is a non-profit based in Pennsylvania, USA (received 501c3 status in December, 2017), to facilitate the development and implementation the Pleistocene Park ideas across the world. The Foundation is also charged with the goal to raise funds to the science and logistics behind this promising idea.
Using our tank to build the fence at Pleistocene Park.
What we will do:
The specific scope of this campaign is to bring herds of bison to Pleistocene Park in the spring of 2018. We already bought twelve one-year-old American plains bison from a Native American Village in Alaska. Animals has already passed all veterinary tests and now preserved in the quarantine. From there animals will be placed into the individual crates, loaded on the truck and taken to the international airport of Fairbanks. From there we will charter the airplane to fly to the easternmost city of Anadyr’ in Russia, where animals would clear customs and continue on the same plane to the home town of the Pleistocene Park – Cherskii. There another truck would take bison to the park. Bison was a keystone specie in the mammoth steppe ecosystem in the past and we expect it to take dominant role in the modern high productive steppes as well.
The bison transport route from Alaska to the Pleistocene Park
How will the crowdfunding money be spent?
Our goal is to raise 98,000 dollars. This money would be added to the money left from our first crowdfunding campaign and personal fund of the Pleistocene Park to pay for the following item:
- Purchase of 12 bison from the Native tribe of Stevens Village;
- Construction of crates
- Veterinary expenses in the United States
- Truck rental for animal transportation
- Custom fees
- Airplane rental with all expenses related to the flight both within USA and Russia.
- Miscellaneous trip expenses, including 1-3 people travelling with the animals,
- Expense of manufacturing and delivery of crowdfunding campaign rewards
- Taxes, bank and legal fees
Push goals and long-term development plans
We set the campaign goal to flexible. Bison is the key animal for the Pleistocene Park and we are intending to get animals to the park even if that would lead to complicated financial situation for the Park
- $60,000 is the absolute minimum to make this happen. It will cover around half of the airfare. This will create financial hardship for me but we will survive.
- $98,000 will cover most charter airplane expenses and leave Pleistocene Park on a more even keel moving forward.
- $200,000 We will also organize transportion of additional animals to the Pleistocene park from within Russia, including reindeer, horses, elk, boars.
- $600,000 We will launch an expedition to bring a herd of at least 20 musk ox. We will explore other options of Arctic adapted animals and bring them. We will improve infrastructure to support the additional animals. Within 2-3 years we would be able to seriously transform the land within current fences.
- $1,000,000 We will extend the Pleistocene Park in every direction. There will be more land, more animals introduced, more people participating in our project.
- $3,000,000 We will complete the ecosystem by introducing predators. We will have enough prey to maintain sustainable population of predators in the Park: wolves and potentially Amur tigers.
- $10,000,000 + We will transport 1000+ bison by ship to the Pleistocene Park region. This is the scale that will be necessary to begin fully implementing restoration of the high productive steppes and stabilize melting permafrost on a large scale.
- $1 billion is the rough estimate of the total price for our civilization to restore real wild nature on a continental scale and have actual impact on climate. While not a small amount of money it is one of the largest environmental impacts possible for a sum well within the budget of a wealthy individual or a corporation. Large infrastructure projects like bridges, dams or clean energy programs are in this range or larger.
Risks and challenges
Transportation of Animals to the Pleistocene Park:
We have prepared a logistical plan which will allow safe and comfortable trip for the animals. This is our 8th expedition to bring animals to Pleistocene Park. Some of these trips have been longer and more complicated and all have been successful.
All animals in this trip will be transported in individual stalls. They will have enough space to stand up and lay down for rest. The design of the containers will allow animals to have access to enough fresh air, water and forage. The route and timing of the expedition will be planned to minimize time of animals spent in travel.
Adaptation of Animals in the Pleistocene Park.
In order to keep our crowdfunding budget reasonable we did not include any of the expenses for the adaptation of the animals in their first year in the Park. However I have already committed to invest my personal resources in proper animal care. This will include:
– Full time salary for the ranger with veterinary education;
– Transportation of forage to the Park to supply animals in the winter period;
— Construction of shelter/shelters to allow animals to adapt to the cold in the autumn/winter period.