Apr 19

After a 300-year absence, the European bison is once again freely roaming the forests of Germany.

European bison image

In 1927, no European bison remained in the wild, with just 54 captive individuals being found in zoos

A welcome return to the wild

A small herd of European bison has been released in Germany, marking the first time in over 300 years that this species has roamed the country’s wilderness. Once widespread across Europe and northern Asia, the European bison, also known as the wisent, underwent a dramatic population decline as a result of large-scale deforestation and hunting. By the 1920s, the species was extinct in the wild, and only 54 captive individuals remained.

Reintroduction programmes began in the 1950s, and since then the European bison has successfully been released in forests in ten countries, including Belarus, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, the Ukraine and Slovakia. However, Germany has this month become the first western European nation to see the bison return to its borders.

European bison herd image

The European bison is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Unhindered herd

For the last three years, the small herd of just eight bison has been held within a 220 acre pen. Researchers have been monitoring the group, which comprises one male, five females and two calves, and have conducted several studies relating to the animals’ release.

Experts have deemed that the bison pose no danger to humans, and so the decision was made to allow the herd to roam unhindered in the Rothaar Mountains of North Rhine-Westphalia. Officials took down the fence earlier this month, enabling the bison to enter Germany’s forests, and it is hoped that the small herd will grow in number to include around 25 individuals. Two of the bison have been fitted with radio transmitters so that scientists can track and monitor them.

European bison image

Once extinct in the wild, there are now 1,800 European bison roaming free in Europe

Successful reintroductions

An interesting reintroduction study is currently being conducted in Pleistocene Park, a protected area in northern Siberia. Researchers are investigating the effects of returning bison and other large native animals to the region, to see if the area is returned to the steppe ecosystem which was present during the Pleistocene epoch.

Reintroduction of the European bison within its historic range has so far proved successful, with an impressive 1,800 individuals now roaming the wild, all of which have stemmed from the 54 captive individuals.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Bison return to Germany after 300 year absence.

View photos and videos of European bison on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author