The European bison of Białowieża Forest, Poland – part 2

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!

drout

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!

wildboar Bialowieza

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!

zubr 2

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 🙂

Europe’s big cat, the Lynx

Europe’s biggest wild cat, the Lynx, is weighing anywhere between 30 Kg (the Eurasian Lynx) and 9 Kg (the Iberian Lynx) and up to 70 cm height. It is considered a national animal in the Republic of Macedonia and is displayed on the reverse of the 5 dinars coin. It is also the national animal of Romania.

The Lynx (FB profile) is native to European, Central Asian, and Siberian forests. While its conservation status has been classified as “least concern”, populations of Eurasian lynx have been reduced or extirpated from Western Europe, where it is now being reintroduced. Lynx in Britain were wiped out in the 17th century, but currently the efforts of conservation groups have intensified, to persuade locals and government to re-introduce the lynx in the wild, to naturally curb the numbers of deer and hares.

In Spain starting 2004, a government survey showed just two isolated breeding populations of Iberian lynx in southern Spain, totaling about 100 lynxes. Since then, through massive effort and protection, the population has increased today to count over 400 individuals! However this effort must continue, to assure this sub-specie survives!

The Lynx is a strict carnivore, consuming about one or two kilograms of meat every day. It feeds on a wide range of animals from white-tailed deer, reindeer, roe deer, small red deer, and chamois, to smaller, more usual prey: snowshoe hares, fish, foxes, squirrels, mice, turkeys and other birds ( Video of lynx feeding in the wild).

The European bison of Białowieża Forest, Poland

The European bison is one of the two remaining species of Bison, alongside the American bison! Both species suffered from extensive hunting, being close to extinction!

bison_diagram

In case of European bison, it actually disappeared from wilderness in the 1920’s, but was since re-introduced from captivity into special reserves (starting with 1951), semi-wild or wild, under protection of the law, in several European countries to reflect its historical distribution/range, but with different degrees of success depending on country. In any case, its overall reintroduction in the wild was declared a success, the species moving from Endangered in 1996 to recently Vulnerable status, as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

status

We went to see this magnificent animal in Poland, Eastern Europe, in one of the remaining wilderness icons, the Białowieża ancient woodland, home of above 800 exemplars (declared the Polish Biosphere Reserve), at the border with Belarus. The reserve seemed well managed, the forest itself is indeed ancient, seeming untouched by civilization, apart from main entrance where you get the chance to go through a gate, there is in fact no border or fence, some lucky people had the chance to see a bison even driving through the nearby villages, as this youtube film shows! We were not that lucky, we did step on the tracks of the bison and we had a great time there, but the only bison we saw were in the nearby enclosed visitor park. However, the overall place and experience was great, and for sure will repeat it (and the ecosystem seems complete, with wolves living in the reserve and feeding on weak bison occasionally in heavy winters, assuring the overall health of the heard, a natural selection process)!!

If you want to see the wild bison, we recommended to check the national park site before visiting, to learn more: Białowieżki National Park !

For more recent pictures and live videos about the European bison re-introduction into the wild and live follow-up, I suggest following these related facebook pages:

  • Poland, Białowieża Forest: Here
  • Romania, Natural Parc “Vanatori Neamt”: Here