We returned to Białowieża National Park in June 2018, after almost 5 years (2013 first trip) to track the mighty King of the Polish Nordic forests, the European bison! But we couldn’t help noticing some of the accelerated impact the globalization and climate change had on the forest, here to share with you.
Firstly, in the 84% of the semi-protected area took place heavy wood exploitation, on the grounds of a local culprit, a little insect whose larvae are raised under bark of a single type of tree, which due to recent warmer drier summer, it could reproduce 5 times instead of regular 3 yearly cycles, and authorities responded with license to cut all these type of trees (even if the areas are mono-culture type of forests, there surely is impact on wildlife, as it uses the forest for shelter). But government didn’t miss the chance to make some money, even here, the most famous natural reserve in this part of Europe, and even if only an insignificant dot on the map of Poland!
Secondly, weather pattern become atypical here in last 5 years, our guides showed us many places in forecast which used to have permanent water (as the one below), but they dried out, again with impact on wildlife behavior, pushing their survival skills further to limit!
Thirdly, following a threat of a type of swine flu originating from Cameroon, Africa, authorities decided to kill all wild boars (sick or healthy), including in the 16% strictly protected primeval forest (UNESCO site)! This type of flu is indeed deadly for pigs, wild or domestic, and unless mutated, it doesn’t impact any type of animals, including man. But reason for killing the wild boars was the easy way to protect economic reasons of industrial farms, a risk if growing such huge number of animals for consumption, in crowded spaces! ( to read Why being vegetarian is good for you, for the planet and its wildlife and Impact of today’s industrialized agriculture on Wildlife). Poor wild-boars!
However, we spent a fabulous week searching for the famous European bison, including guided night tours , spotting many wildlife, and many bison tracks as well as other tracks (including wolves, and this is very good sign, as presence of top predator assures the sustainability of this ecosystem), but still no bison visible. With each day passing we became more ambitious in our goal, determined to see one of the 650 bison living in this side of the forest, on Polish side of the border!
In the end, we did spot the King, just before getting dark, after 9 pm local time, in the last day of our staying, even if for less than a minute as he was changing residence from a nearby forest to next one, but having to step in the open field in the meantime. A magnificent moment that cannot be described in words, a real privilege and a relief to see this wonderful animal alive and free (semi-free actually, due to dependence on winter feeding grounds, to avoid a natural migration of the heard), knowing that all living European bison today are grandsons and granddaughters of a small heard of only 7 individuals!
Hope also for more places as Białowieża forests to be protected, as the model proves perfectly sustainable for communities and acceptable for wildlife (preferable to closed zoo model), there is a big local community leaving from tourism in the area (around 200 K tourists per year) and great place to learn about wildlife (there is also a famous university, which wrote an excellent book The art of tracking animals! Enjoy your visit!
P.S. In the meantime, Polish national team’s trainer claims among other reasons the hot climate that his team had to face during its game with Colombia where they lost 3 – 0 during 2018 Football championship in Russia (another Nordic country facing warmer than ever climate)…Not sure here what to believe, if this can be counted as a reason 🙂