American Elephants

The Wisent, Roaming Free in A European Forest. by The Elephant's Child
December 31, 2012, 6:49 am
Filed under: Europe, Freedom, Heartwarming, History | Tags: , ,


Walter Russell Mead always has interesting essays at The American Interest and today’s was no exception.”For the first time since 1746, a herd of wild European bison, close cousins of the American variety, will be roaming free in a German forest owned by Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg.” Now how could you resist an introductory sentence like that?

Since he hit upon the idea almost a decade ago, Prince Richard has been at the center of Germany’s most interesting experiment in species conservation. Now the project, which receives about €1.5 million ($2 million) in government subsidies, is about to enter its critical phase.

The state Environment Ministry in Düsseldorf issued its approval shortly before Christmas, and over the next few days several men will drive into the forest and remove the fence around an acclimation enclosure in place since 2010. When that happens, a herd of eight European bison, or wisent, will be free to roam in the woods. It consists of an enormous bull, five cows and two calves.


The last wild European bison was killed in 1927 in the Caucasus, but the few specimens that lived on in zoos now have 3,000 descendants. Some Europeans are nervous worrying about dangers to hikers or the environment. Others worry about the wild West nature of the animals. Goodness, they’re talking about one bull, five cows and two calves. Hardly the thundering stampede of Western history. It is interesting that these bison are woodland creatures, unlike American bison who roamed free on the Great Plains. The picture above is a bigger herd than the one now free in the forest. It is encouraging to see a species preserved in zoos, once again being released to thrive in the wild. A nice story for the New Year.


1 Comment so far
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Indeed, a nice story. Europeans are kind of funny about mega-fauna in their own back yards. They’re OK with deer and moose, and even wild boar (which really get big and are much more dangerous than bison), but they have a visceral fear of critters like wolves (which were for centuries carriers of rabies) and bears, and by extension to deep forests. It can be extremely frustrating arguing with Europeans about reforming agricultural policy. “But some of the farms might revert to … to forest!” is the kind of panicky response I’ve heard many, many times. To a North American more accustomed to thinking of forests as natural places of beauty, not too dangerous if you are careful, such responses are almost incomprehensible.

So I’m not surprised that “some Europeans are nervous worrying about dangers to hikers or the environment.”


Comment by Subsidy Eye

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