Bison watching in europe

Bison watching in Europe


The rewilding of eastern Europe's forests

Aside from the end of the Soviet/Polish war there was something else going on in Poland in 1921 that would have a damning legacy on the natural world. Wild European bison became extinct, and would vanish entirely across the continent some six years later.

Thankfully, during this period, around 50 European bison remained in captivity. A breeding programme was undertaken, and some 30 years after wild bison disappeared from Poland they were reintroduced in the 1950s.

Although the reintroduction, or ‘rewilding’, of animals into their natural habitat is still seen as something of a novel concept, back in the 50s it must have been really forward thinking. It's thanks to these early pioneers that the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bialowieza Forest now has over 800 wild European bison roaming free amongst one of the continent's largest and last remaining old growth environments.

Zoos and wildlife parks across the continent, including Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France, have undertaken a coordinated rewildling project to reintroduce European bison into Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Russia and Poland, with the Southern Carpathians and Bialowieza Forest providing ideal habitats for healthy herds. This sort of combined effort is like a ray of sunshine for those wildlife lovers keen on seeing animals in their natural element and as more organisations aim to reintroduce bison to the wild rather than keep them as exhibits it begs the question:

Are zoos doing enough to reintroduce animals into the wild?


Zoos often promote their captive breeding programmes, particularly for threatened or highly endangered species – with pandas being amongst the most notable – but when it comes to reintroducing them into the wild, there rarely seem to be programmes in place. Going to a zoo does provide an educational means of introducing children and adults to animals, and can often inspire children to learn more about the animals they have seen and how to conserve them. But of course, nothing beats the thrill of seeing a creature living and thriving within its natural habitat.

European bison can grow up to 11ft in length, over 6ft in height and a fully grown bull can weigh almost a tonne, or about the same as a 1970’s Polski Fiat! No matter how large the purpose built bison enclosures at zoos, such as Whipsnade in the UK or Washington DC’s Smithsonian, there’s no way that they can compare to environments like Poland’s Bialowieza Forest where there is over 3,000km2 of primeval forest to call home.
Tracking and watching bison in Poland with an expert is the only way to truly understand the relationship between animals and nature with many of the region's historical and social aspects being relayed by knowledgeable and environmentally trained local guides.

Keeping group sizes to a maximum of seven participants also allows for a much more natural encounter other than trampling through thickets scattering birds and animals quicker than you can whisper 'where's my binoculars'.

Compare the experience of observing a bison in a zoo, as school children and tourists jostle for space, against watching the steam rise from a wild bison's flanks in a misty meadow in the Bialowieza Forest, then you'll begin to understand just what roaming wild really means.

By creating an experience that's unpredictable and exciting for wildlife watchers, Polish conservationists are also helping to preserve one of the oldest forests in Europe and in so doing protecting the natural habitat of hundreds of other endemic species.

Wolves, lynx, moose, beavers, otters and rare species of bird are all known to inhabit the Bialowieza Forest and nearby Biebrza Marshes, whilst local land owners are being educated as to the importance of protecting animals that have strayed over boundaries.

If you're longing to see bison in the wild or track wolf prints in the snow, our winter safari and tracking trip in Poland offers an excellent chance to do so. Alternatively, our bison safaris from the spring to autumn take you into the Bialowieza Forest with the aim to find wildlife in warmer temperatures.

Final thoughts...


Any wildlife, whether it has been reintroduced or otherwise, deserves the right to live amongst its natural habitat. Yes, zoos, to a certain level, offer a chance to see animals up close but do visitors come anywhere close to engaging with the natural world? Respect is everything and if you want to respect the bison and endemic species that call Bialowieza Forest and Biebrza Marshes home join a small group led by an environmentally trained local guide for an interactive animal encounter that really matters.
Photo credits: [All images: L. Mazurek / WildPoland.com]
Poland bison safari and wolf tracking vacation, Winter

Poland bison safari and wolf tracking vacation, Winter

Short break wildlife adventure in the Bialowieza Forest

From 690 4 Days ex flights
Yellowstone NP winter wildlife tour

Yellowstone NP winter wildlife tour

Action-packed and incredible winter tour of Yellowstone

From US $2849 7 days ex flights
Yellowstone NP Solar Eclipse vacation, USA

Yellowstone NP Solar Eclipse vacation, USA

Three celebrated national parks in the Rocky Mountain Range

From US $3566 12 days ex flights
Poland bison safari in the Primeval Forest

Poland bison safari in the Primeval Forest

Short break wildlife adventure in the Bialowieza Forest

From 690 4 Days ex flights
Wolf watching holiday in Yellowstone, USA

Wolf watching vacation in Yellowstone, USA

Expert guided trips to track & watch wolves in Yellowstone

From £2615 7 Days ex flights
Convert currencies