Bison herd to get new home

Adult female with calf Artur Reszko

A new bison enclosure is being built in eastern Poland to showcase the animals.

Built on over 20ha of land on the site of a former timber depot in the village of Kopna Góra, near the border with Belarus, the spacious enclosure will be home to ten bison. The project is part of the Polish state’s broader efforts to protect bison. In 2017, Poland’s State Forests launched a comprehensive protection project with a budget of 40 million złoty (9.3 million euros). Weighing up to 900 kg, the animals used to roam Europe. Numbers dwindled due to hunting, with wild bison dying out in the early 20th Century. In Poland, the last one in the Białowieża Forest died in 1919, after the local bison population was devastated during World War I.

Since the 1920s, Poland has sought to bring back and protect the bison, through the creation of a reserve in the Białowieża Forest, bringing over animals from abroad and breeding. Current efforts include reintroducing bison in other parts of Poland; most recently the Augustowska Forest in north-eastern Poland, by the border with Lithuania and Belarus. Numbers have risen gradually. These days, the Knyszyńska Forest by Kopna Góra is home to around 160 bison. Most of Poland’s bison live in the Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there are around 650. In total, there are 1873 bison in Poland, according to State Forests. 1635 live in wild herds and the remaining 238 at breeding farms.   

Meanwhile, Poland is helping reintroduce bison in other parts of Europe. It has sent bison to France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Denmark. In April, the country sent seven female bison born in Białowieża to Spain. On the way, they were joined by two males from the Wielkopolska region, in western Poland. The 2500km journey by lorry had regular breaks for the bison to eat and drink. Overall, there are an estimated 5000 bison globally – with the largest number living in Poland.

Further south, a bison enclosure in Muszne, in the south-eastern tip of Poland, is proving popular, too. It enables visitors to see the bison in their natural habitat, up close. Of the eleven bison, four were born in the enclosure last year. When it was built six years ago, the first bison were brought over from countries in western Europe. Most of that initial group now lives in free herds – among the 500 or so bison living in the surrounding Bieszczady mountain area.  

Tourism aside, the enclosure in Muszne provides a place for bison brought over from abroad to acclimatise to local conditions, before being released into the wild. These new bison are distantly related to the local ones, and are brought over to improve the gene pool, according to a local spokesman for State Forests.  

These bison differ from the ones in Białowieża Forest. Unlike them, they are descendants of Caucasian bison of the Caucasian-Białowieża type, first brought to the Bieszczady area in the 1960s.

Back in Kopna Góra, the new bison enclosure, which will cost over 17 million złoty (3.9 million euros) to build, is expected to be ready in two years’ time. If that seems too long a wait, Poland’s bison can already be admired from anywhere in the world – via the webcam installed in the Białowieża Forest by State Forests in 2012, which can be viewed here. Infrared reflectors enable the animals to be viewed at night, too, without disrupting their routines.