The Resurgence of the European Bison

Back in 1927, Europe’s largest land animal became extinct in the wild following centuries of habitat loss and overhunting.  A dozen individuals in captivity were subsequently bred across five zoos in the hope that one day, a viable population could be re-established.  Now in 2015, there are over 5500 Wisent – to use their correct European name – of which more than 2700 are in truly wild, free-ranging herds.  The magnificently primeval Bialowieza Forest which stretches across the border between Poland and Belarus, is once again a stronghold for them – having been home to 11 of the 12 Wisent removed during the early 20th Century to save the entire species.

There are now free-roaming populations in nine countries, with Poland, Belarus, the Caucasus region and Russia being home to the largest herds.  Smaller colonies are developing well in countries such as Lithuania, Romania and the Netherlands.  Between March and July this year, a total of 18 calves were born across European Rewilding Network member areas, according to Rewilding Europe.

As large herbivores, they are a keystone species that exert a considerable influence on the ecosystems they inhabit; shaping it through their manure, grazing, carcasses and movement through the forests.  A multitude of species therefore benefit and depend on the Wisent for optimising ecological conditions in places like Bialowieza.  Their presence in these ancient forests has brought about a renewed sense of public engagement with their wild spaces and led to a surge in wildlife tourism that has boosted local economies.  Who knows, perhaps one day, we’ll see them return to Britain too…

8 thoughts on “The Resurgence of the European Bison”

    1. Cheers Nick. Yeah, exciting times for wildlife conservation and ecological restoration on the continent. Waiting for Britain to catch up!

    1. Thanks for sharing. Rewilding and reintroductions have stirred up a lot of strong opinions here – what’s public opinion like where you are?

      1. I would say most Americans are in support of rewilding “prey” species … especially in the West, many Americans fancy themselves as serious hunters. So most have been happy to see the return of bison, for example. However, predator species reintroductions are incredibly controversial. The grizzly bear was restored in the far north of the country, but since the bears stay mostly within national park boundaries and on native american reservations, the public outcry has been minimal. With wolves, however, reintroduction has been a battle of nearly terrorist proportions. Illegal wolf hunts abound in some areas where ranchers have particularly powerful political voices. There is a constant effort by some to have wolves removed from our endangered species list, which would remove many of their protections. Wolves seem to stir this visceral fear in us.

        If you are looking for a good fiction book to read, Sarah Hall’s new book called “The Wolf Border” about a British biologist who works on wolf reintroduction in the U.S. and the U.K., is great. I think it gives a very accurate picture of the state of U.S. wolf relations.

      2. That’s interesting, thanks for the info and I’ll definitely give that book a read when I get a chance. I think there would be a similiar outcry here due to so many entrenched views and misconceptions. Plans in motion for a Lynx reintroduction next year – fingers crossed it gets approved!

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