National Geographic : 2015 Aug
Wild Things EXPLORE PHOTO: STAFFAN WIDSTRAND. MAP: JAMIE HAWK. SOURCES: TOBIAS KUEMMERLE, HUMBOLDT- UNIVERSITY BERLIN, GERMANY; MAŁGORZATA BOŁBOT, EUROPEAN BISON PEDIGREE BOOK They’d been raised in zoos and breeding centers. Still, when the European bison were put in a fenced tract in Romania’s Transylvanian Alps in May 2014, most took well to their sur- roundings. This June, 14 of them were set free—the latest step in an ongoing effort to reintroduce Bison bonasus in Europe. Bison first roamed the continent about 10,000 years ago. By the eighth century hunting and habitat destruction had reduced their range and pushed them eastward. Later, kings shot them on royal hunting grounds, and then wartime carnage thinned the remaining herds, until the last wild bison succumbed in 1927. From just 12 bison surviving in zoos, the next generation was bred. Reintroductions began into eastern Europe in the 1950s. Once the 14 bison were freed to roam, more were to be moved to the fenced tract. Rewilding Europe and WWF are coordinat- ing the effort with locals, with an eye to tourism. Future releases should bring the population in Romania to at least 300 by 2025. Unlike its American cousin, Bison bison, Bison bonasus is not a cultural icon. “The biggest problem in European bison conservation is that the animal is unknown,” says Joep van de Vlasakker, an adviser to the project. “Because it’s unknown, it is unloved. And because it is unloved, there is not enough support for its conservation.” — A l ison Fromme Bringing Back Europe’s Bison 0km 0mi 500 500 Approximate European bison range, 5000 B.C. Reintroduced wild herd ATLANTIC OCEAN Medit erranean Se a BELARUS Black Sea ATLANTIC OCEAN Medit erranean Se a UKR. ROM. BELARUS LITHUANIA SLOVAKIA GER. RUSSIA POL. EUROPE June 2015 introduction site About two- thirds of the world’s 5,000 Bison bonasus, Europe’s largest mam- mal, roam wild in eastern Europe.