Photo: AP News. Czech bison living on old soviet era military base.

Wild horses, bison and other big-hoofed animals once roamed freely in much of Europe. Now they are transforming a former military base outside the Czech capital in an ambitious project to improve biodiversity, reports AP News

Where occupying Soviet troops once held exercises, heavy beasts now munch on the invasive plants that took over the base years ago.

With some species wiped out in the wild, the animals now have the chance to live together again in relative freedom. Conservationists deployed them at Milovice five years ago. Now they hope to enlarge the sanctuary by one third to 360 hectares (890 acres) this year.

The animals’ task is to improve biodiversity among local plants by eating invasive ones while saving endangered species, said Dalibor Dostal, the director of European Wildlife, an organization behind the project.

“It’s a miraculous change,” Dostal said. “Nobody expected that the whole process would go ahead so fast and the area would change so much in just a few years.”

He said the large animals are as key to preserving the ecosystem “as trees are for forests.”

David Storch, an environment professor at Prague’s Charles University who was not involved in the project, agreed. He said the project is “absolutely unique” because it shows that nature can be preserved not only by protecting it from human activities but also by actively shaping it with big-hoofed animals.

Latest news? Sort of. An almost identical story ran 9 years ago, when Deutche Welle reported “nearly extinct European bison return to Czech forest.” Here’s part of their story:

A small herd of European bison have been returned to the wild in a remote corner of the Czech Republic, the latest chapter in what is an amazing reversal of fortunes for Europe’s largest mammal.

Hunted virtually to the point of extinction, in recent years European bison have made something of a comeback. In the Czech Republic, they’re grazing on what used to be a military training ground last used by the Red Army.

“I suppose it is rather ironic,” said Jiri Janota, head of the Czech Defense Ministry’s Military Forests and Farmland Department.

Janota is a no-nonsense military man with a firm handshake. One senses he has little time for journalists from Prague, who come ill-equipped for wading through nettles and tall grass to reach the small herd of bison he personally oversees at the Ralsko Nature Reserve, about 100 kilometers northeast of the capital.

“Disused army training grounds often boast some of the best-preserved natural environments in the country, because for decades they were closed to the public,” Janota said, keeping his voice low in order to avoid scaring the animals munching on the grass behind him.

But whether it is really news or not, these magnificent animals take a great picture!