Back in 2010, people started an ambitious project to bring the wild European bison (Bison bonasus), also known as wisent, back to Germany. After a 3-year transition phase, the first wild European bison roamed Germany again. Attempts of a European bison from Poland to settle on German territory ended up in authorities shooting the European bison. The reintroduction project became a success. Conservationists managed to transport a European bison herd of eight animals to the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia. The European bison herd has grown, and forest farmers are demanding control. Last month, politicians, conservationists and forest farmers agreed on a compromise to fence the wild European bison in on a 1 500 hectare area.
Germany – European – Bison
Captive bison in Germany. Photo by: Marcus Woelfle/Creative Commons 2.0
Rothaargebirge, Germany -European Bison
From 30 September to 2 October 2014, the international conference “From captivity to freedom– challenges for a returning species” has taken place in Bad Berleburg, Germany. The focus of the conference was set on free-bison herds, their management and their complex interactions with the environment. This conference provided the opportunity to exchange ideas, knowledge and experiences with free-living bison populations as well as giving an actual state of affairs of the current bison projects in Europe.
- Type of project: Large-scale rehabilitations of natural processes, including herbivores, carnivores and/or scavengers being present, Re-introductions / re-stockings of locally extinct or rare key wildlife species, or breeding of such species with the goal to release them into the wild
- Description: In 2010 the first European bison arrived in an acclimatization enclosure in the Rothaargebirge, Germany. After three years research about spatial behaviour of the bison, influence of the bison on their environment (forest, flora and fauna) and socio-economics, a herd of 8 individuals could be released in april 2013. The following years will show if a reintroduction of a large herbivore in a human dominated landscape (forestry, tourism) can be successful.
- Aim: Goal is to establish a free-ranging herd of 20-25 European bison in the Rothaargebirge and to ensure the survival of this species on the long term.
- Vision: To provide an example for further reintroduction projects elsewhere, where humans are omnipresent in the landscape.
- Flagship species: Bison
- Other characteristics: Eco tourism, Research
June 2014 The New York Times showed efforts to reintroduce the largest animal in Europe, which was hunted to near-extinction in the 19th century. Recently, eight European bison were released into the German wild. This tiny herd has produced two calves and had one death, so their number now stands at nine. Yet even that tiny contingent is being protested by neighboring landowners who claim the bison have damaged trees and trampled crops and may carry diseases.
European bison, or wisents, keep a safe distance from human visitors to their enclosure on the property of Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg in Germany’s densely populated state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Fossils and flint tools found in a coal mine prove that Neanderthal man roamed the region east of Berlin during the last-but-one ice age, the Brandenburg state government said.
The finds, in a mine run by Swedish power company Vattenfall AB, date back 130,000 years. They are the oldest evidence of human existence in the region, the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture said in a statement sent by e-mail. Previously, evidence of human life in the region only went back 40,000 years, according to the statement.
Archaeologists unearthed tools including a scraper for removing flesh from animal skins, and a stone for shaping tools and weapons. Twenty meters below the surface, they also found remnants of wolf, horse, elk and bison at the Jaenschwalde lignite mine, near the city of Cottbus and the Polish border.
“This find rewrites Brandenburg history,” Sabine Kunst, the state official in charge of culture, said in the release.
Fossils show the surrounding habitat was a shallow, watery dell where buckthorn, birch trees, herbs, grasses and moss grew, according to researchers from Berlin’s Free University.
The climate was similar to northern Scandinavia’s today, mild enough to allow Neanderthals to migrate there at least during the summer months, Annette Kossler, a Free University paleontologist, said in the release.
Vattenfall has contributed about 8 million euros ($10.9 million) toward funding the archaeologists’ work in the past years, according to the statement.
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology, Lance Esplund on U.S. art, and Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on movies.
To contact the reporters on this story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin email@example.com
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Wild bison bound into Germany’s forest-Feb 10 2012 (source)
The European bison was on the brink of extinction, but the shaggy creatures are making a comeback. Now, a small herd are to be released into Germany’s forests – the first bison to roam here in nearly a century.
At first there were concerns about reintroducing the European bison into North Rhine-Westphalia. Hikers worried that the wild animals would attack them. Forester said the bison would damage the trees and soil. Farmers were terrified wild bison would wander into their pastures, mate with the cattle and create hybrids calves.
But bison wrangler Jochen Born waves off their concern. “Everybody’s got a question or two when something new crops up,” he told DW.
Born trains bison near the German town of Bad Berleburg. Right now, he cares for two captive herds as part of his work with an organization called Bison World Wittgenstein. His job is to prepare bison for release into the wild.
He says Germans have nothing to worry about. Bison are naturally shy of humans. They generally feed on grass, not trees and they have no sexual interest in European cows. He’s now waiting for official approval, which he may have within a few months, and then he’ll open the pasture gates and release 8 of the creatures into the open forests. This will be the first time wild bison have been able to roam freelny in Western Europe in nearly a century.
Jochen Born pulls his pickup truck into a grassy enclosure and suddenly a group of curious, woolly quadrupeds come trotting over. These five animals live on 20 hectares of unfenced land in Bad Berleburg.
An intimidating bull named Horno approaches. He has powerful front legs and short, curved horns. A dangerous-looking beast. But, a closer look reveals the animal’s true nature. Horno backs leisurely away from anyone who tries to approach him.
The bison are slowly being weaned off human interaction, so they develop the fear they need to survive.
“That bull doesn’t have much sway over the rest of the herd,” Born said.
When it comes to bison, the matriarch of the herd leads the way. In this case she’s a bison named Good Mood, who was transferred to the Bad Berleburg reserve from Berlin. “She’s pretty used to people,” Born explains. But while this makes Good Mood popular with humans, it means she’s not prepared for the dangers of the wild.
“She’s not ready to be reintroduced yet,” say Born.
Born looks after a second herd of eight bison that have been carefully groomed for reintroduction over the past two years. These bison also came from zoos and wildlife reserves and still need to be weaned away from humans. “That’s why this particular enclosure has strict regulations in terms of visitors,” explains Born’s colleague, forest director Johannes Röhl. “With the exception of animal caretakers feeding the animals, no one’s allowed in.”
There are occasional encounters between the bison and humans. There are run-ins with cross-country skiers, photographers, and yapping dogs. But these interactions have shown that bison don’t represent a serious danger to humans and generally try to avoid them.
If all goes according to plan, the shy group of bison will be led by matriarch Araneta into open terrain. “We’ll have to manage the herd after that,” Röhl said. “Particularly when it comes to feeding in winter.” Assuming the animals do find plenty to eat in that area, and given their penchant for being homebodies, at that point they’ll be inclined to stay in their ancestral Wittgensteiner forest.
Brink of extinction
European bison once populated large parts of Europe, from Germany all the way to Russia. But a combination of poaching and human habitation eliminated them from those territories. Their stocks continued to dwindle until the 1920s, when the last wild bison was poached. At that point the species effectively died out.
Luckily more than 50 specimens remained in zoos, wildlife reserves and on private property. Of those, only 12 were suited for breeding, as the others had been crossed with American bison. Every European bison alive today, including those at Wittgenstein, are descended from those 12 parents. There are 4,000 in total, with about half living in the wild – most of them in Poland and in Belarus.
The lack of genetic diversity does present a problem Röhl explains. “The wild bison in Poland are having serious problems with viruses that attack the males’ reproductive organs. We’ve been combating illnesses by lowering inbreeding.”
Mixing gene pools
Bialowieza National Park in Poland is where the official international bison breeding register can be found. All pure-blood bison are registered there. Scientists at Bialowieza advised the Bad Berleburger project in Germany on how they could reduce inbreeding and nurture healthy herds.
Every bison born in Bad Berleburg has a name that begins with “Q”. When it comes to christening these animals, the people of Bad Berleburg have had their work cut out for them. Araneta has given birth to two calves: Quandor and Queen of Rothaarsteig. The trusty Good Mood also added one to the litter. As the mother has yet to produce milk, however, Jochen Born has been raising the calf from the bottle. When the ranger sits down on a stump, Quelle, the calf, comes running over and allows him to pet her. “I’m something of a bison daddy,” Born says with a smile.