Friday, 1 June 2018

Return of the bison: Herd makes surprising comeback on Dutch coast

Endangered species can thrive in habitats other than forests, paving way for their return

Eighty years after they were hunted to extinction, the successful reintroduction of a herd of wild European bison on to the dunes of the Dutch coast is paving the way for their return across the continent.

The largest land-living animal in Europe was last seen in the Netherlands centuries ago, and was wiped out on the continent by 1927. Despite successful efforts to breed the species again in the wilds of Poland in the 1950s, and renewed efforts in the last decade in western Europe, the European bison remains as endangered as the black rhino.

The 7,000 bison, or bison bonasus, that exist in Europe today are often given supplementary feed by rangers to get through the winter months.

Yet a study of a herd of 22 bison living in Kraansvlak, 330 hectares of dunes and natural ponds making up part of the Zuid-Kennemerland national park in north Holland, is now offering a more optimistic assessment of the bison’s chances of survival.

European bison live freely in the Dutch dune area, the Kraansvlak, in the Netherlands.
Photograph: Ruud Maaskant/Courtesy of Wisentproject
A series of research papers from the Dutch study further questions the belief that European bison are forest-dwelling creatures, a development that opens up their reintroduction to a whole host of new European environments.

Nature organisations in Sweden, Switzerland and the UK are looking on with interest, and knowledge is being shared with established projects in Spain, France and Germany.

“People thought, ‘Bison on dunes? The crazy Dutch’,” said Yvonne Kemp, the bison project leader in the Zuid-Kennemerland park, and the co-author of the latest published research. “But it is working, you can see the herd, they are having calves and doing well.

“The general view for decades was that European bison were a forest animal. But we were not so sure. We believed that they are not so suited to forests because today, still in winter time, in lots of areas, they feed the bison. They come to the hay, which is not super natural.”

(Source: The Guardian)

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