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Another European Country Adds Bison to Their Rewilding Mix

Something big is coming to Portugal. It's the European bison, the largest mammal in Europe.


Small herd of European bison

These huge herbivores were once found across much of lowland Europe, but hunting and habitat loss took their toll and, over time, their range was reduced to areas of eastern and northeastern Europe. Finally, in 1927 the last wild European bison was shot in the Caucasus.


Fortunately, 54 animals did remain alive in captivity. A captive breeding project was launched and then, eventually, a rewilding programme with the first bison released back into the wild in Poland’s Białowieża Forest in 1954. Today, there are an estimated 9,000 wild bison living free in Europe with the majority occurring in Belarus and Poland. Other European countries with free-ranging herds include Germany, Switzerland, Romania and Lithuania.


And now, in another sign of the bison’s remarkable comeback, a herd of eight bison were last week transferred from Poland to the Greater Côa Valley in northern Portugal where, after a period of acclimatisation, they will eventually be set free on the 7,600-hectare Termas de Monfortinho, and Herdade do Vale Feitoso estate.


Once the bison are settled into their new home, people will be allowed to view them as part of a wildlife tourism initiative set up under the guidance of the Wild Côa Network.


It’s hoped that by roaming across the estate, the bison will promote biodiversity and help the landscape to lock up more atmospheric carbon. As large grazers, the animals will lower the risk of wildfire by reducing flammable vegetation, creating natural firebreaks, and opening up forested areas, which lets in more light and allows grass to grow instead of scrub. Indeed, bison's environmental benefits extend beyond this. New research shows that a herd of 170 bison roaming Romania’s Țarcu mountains have such a positive environmental impact, that it's equivalent to taking almost two million cars of the road for a year.


‘We are viewing this translocation as a pilot,’ explains Pedro Prata of Rewilding Portugal, which is one of several groups that supported the translocation. ‘The bison will be closely monitored to see how they acclimatise to the local landscape and climate. This is the first time that Rewilding Portugal team have managed bison, so it’s a learning process for us too.’

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