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Bison the King of Białowieża Forest

The fame of Białowieża forest is long beside Polish borders and reached furthest corners of the world. The forest is mainly a natural woodland and the king of the forest – Bison. Bison in the past without any constrains run across European forests from Atlantic Ocean all the way to Caucasus. Currently all bison in the world come from Białowieża. You can find them in Spain, Holland or Germany. Animals therefore good promotion for Poland and the export of Bison is always joined by events promoting Białowieża National Park and Podlachia. Bison is one of the most recognisable symbols of Poland in the world.

Bison (latin Bison bonasus) is the largest living European mammal. The animal fascinates and amazes, for it and its natural habitat many tourists visit Białowieża Forest. The weight of adult males varies from 440 kg to 920 kg. Its height in skein reaches 188 cm. Bulls are characterised by rather big disproportion between huge front of the body and rather small back. Cows are smaller, their weight varies from 320 to 640 kg and they have less developed front of the body. Bison’s body is covered in fawn-brown fur, perfectly blending in with surroundings. Front of the body is covered in lnger hair that at the lower part of the neck make so called beard. The hair on rump are short. On both genders’ heads are highly embedded horns. The end of horns in adult females are bent inwards more than in males. Calves have ginger fur when born and are rather small – from 16 kg to 35 kg. Despite the weight and size it reaches it can run with the speed of 40km/h and without any problems jump over a stream and even a 1,5 meters high fence. In one day it can run over 10 km.

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Lowland Bison survived the longest in Białowieża forest where at the end of XIX century almost 2000 bison lived. Right before First World War there were 700 bison. Sadly First World War took part in uncontrolled killings of this animal as provision supply for military, while the last one was killed by a hunter in 1919. When the World War I ended in April 1919, a special commission came to Białowieża Forest which purpose was to find and protect any living bison found. Members of commission found only white bones of the animals, there was no living bison in the forest.

Because the species was threatened by complete extinction, polish naturalists appealed in 1923 before International Nature Congress in Paris to save the bison. Naturalists from other countries were convinced and in the same year International Bison Protection Company was established. The first step was the assessment of number of imprisoned pure blood bison. Only 54 were found across the world, in zoos in few European countries. However not all were proper for reproduction and finally to recreate the species only 12 animals were chosen. In that time the zoos had the animals from Białowieża forest.

 

Because the species was threatened by complete extinction, polish naturalists appealed in 1923 before International Nature Congress in Paris to save the bison. Naturalists from other countries were convinced and in the same year International Bison Protection Company was established. The first step was the assessment of number of imprisoned pure blood bison. Only 54 were found across the world, in zoos in few European countries. However not all were proper for reproduction and finally to recreate the species only 12 animals were chosen. In that time the zoos had the animals from Białowieża forest. No one at that time thought, that surviving couple of bison in private zoo in Pszczyna originating from Białowieża Forest, will play vital role in the rebirth of Bison bonasus species. The female was named Planta while the male was called Plebejer. 20 years old at the time Planta gave birth to heifer Plekette and when she was 22, she gave birth to bull Platen. Siblings Platen and Plekette were parents of male Plisch who after bringing him in 1936 to Białowieża reserve contributed to the restoration of lowland bison. He was the father of 45 calves, 15 of which were of pure Białowieża blood line.
Currently bison population in the world counts around 4,6 thousand individuals, out of which 470 lives in Białowieża Forest and around 1200 in Poland. Let’s remind that all currently living bison in the world come from those 12 separated and groomed for species protection.
In 1966 bison was written down in “Red Book” of species endangered with extinction. Still all around the globe, bison is heavily protected species.
All Białowieża bison living in closed cultures are put in “Book of bison lineage”. It contains blood lines and family histories of individuals. Bison are given name and lineage number. First two letters of the name tell about bison’s origin. According to the designation of pszczyna line, bison’s name had to start with “Pl” letters from surname von Pless. Every bison of pure białowieża bloodline has a name starting with “Po” standing for Poland, with Poranek and Pomruk (Morning and Rumble) as an example.
Wandering around Białowieża Forest we should be careful as the bison generally acts slowly but dangerous situation they react very fast. Running or attacking bison reaches the speed of running dog, around 40km/h. Especially dangerous are bison females after calving. For three months no one should come close to them. If someone happens to run into such animal, then there is nothing else to do but run and hide behind trees. Bull on the other hand get dangerous after fifth year and can attack then, so it’s better to observe those animals from distance. Remember that the strength of bison is enormous as its weight is almost a ton. However even those colossus can feel stressed, especially when hunted.
Białowieża bison live around the globe and recently 6 specimen were put in special, prepared yard on Danish island of Borholm.