National Geographic : 1968 Feb
National Geographic, February, 1968 engineer Desider Ambr6z, is a big man with bristling mustache and military bearing. "We have 22,000 hectares [about 55,000 acres] in this reserve, and 700 workers," he told me briskly. "Hunters come from all over Europe to shoot deer, wild sheep, wild boar, and other game." He guided me to a log stockade. Inside, sev eral shaggy brown brutes snuffled at a feeding trough-the almost extinct European bison. The biggest bull, named Putifar, glared at me from small, wild eyes and indulged in an earth shaking roll in the dust. "Are they dangerous?" I asked. "Absolutely untamable," said the director. "They grow violent when even a rabbit enters the pen. They roamed wild here 600 years ago, but now there are only about 520 of them in the world-most of them in Poland and Russia. We started with four a few years ago. Now our herd numbers 16." As we left the bison corral, Director Am br6z shook his head worriedly. "This preserve is a state enterprise," he said. "Under the new economic system we are supposed to make a profit. But we are simply trying to build up our herd to help preserve the species-and where's the profit in that?" The director's dilemma may not be insol uble. More than a score of European bison, I have learned, are scattered throughout the United States in half a dozen zoos; a prime specimen might fetch as much as $2,000 from other zoo directors anxious to acquire one. Outside the city of Ziar I passed a more profitable state enterprise, a forest of smoke stacks and mountains of bauxite ore. This immense aluminum plant bears the name, Enterprise of the Slovak National Uprising. Headquarters of that 1944 uprising against German occupation forces was the mining town of Banska Bystrica. A museum here ex hibits Slovak partisans' weapons and a home made armored railway car built under the noses of the Nazis. One glass case contains the underclothing of an executed resistance leader, on which he had stitched, in barely visible white thread, a diary informing his wife of his fate. Here, too, I saw tattered copies of illegal wartime newspapers and handbills. One read: "Rise up! Awake! The partisans are fighting for your freedom! No one will rule us in the future... ." "In the early days after 1948," the old Com munist had said, "there were people here in Prague who formed secret divergent groups, hoping to seize the radio and overthrow the government. They were fools, playing a game of Indians and cowboys." He snorted. "Fools. Of course they were easily caught and exe cuted. No one tries that now." I drove on through the Hron River Valley, nestled between spurs of the Carpathians that arch through most of Slovakia. Roadside piles of fir logs awaited transport to sawmills. Neat villages bore such names as Red Rock, Tootling an invitation to an autumn cele bration at Dobelice, a trombonist tramps from hamlet to hamlet. Evergreen sprig in his hat also announces the hody, or festival. Every child's dream castle, graceful Karl gtejn looms protectively above a Bohemian village. The massive bastion rose in the 14th century as a retreat and royal treasure house for Charles IV, the wise Bohemian king who also reigned as Holy Roman Emperor. Twice besieged but never taken, formidable Karl gtejn, now restored as a museum, holds spe cial charm even in a country where more than 2,500 castles survive.