European bison return to forests of Romania

Back to nature: After near extinction, the numbers of wild European bison are now increasing.

The giant European bison was almost driven to extinction a century ago, but 37 have just been set loose in Romania. Europe’s wildlife is making a huge comeback. Could there be dangers?

The villagers of the Carpathian mountains thought they had seen the last of the hulking horned beasts, but now they are back. This week, environmentalists took 37 European bison on a five-day journey from Sweden and reintroduced the two-metre tall creatures back into Romania’s remote wilderness.

Hunting and a loss of their natural habitat almost drove European bison to extinction in the 1920s. Since then, however, conservation work has helped them to repopulate much of eastern Europe. The thousands now back in the wild are descendants of just 54 bison that were kept in captivity.

The head of ‘Rewilding Europe’, the charity behind the latest release, says the bison have a ‘big symbolic value’ in Romania and are deeply engrained in the country’s mythology. Locals have new jobs as rangers to look after them, and many hope they will attract tourists, and therefore money, to the area.

The bison are just one sign of Europe returning to its wilder days. The number of wild wolves has quadrupled since the 1970s, with 25,000 now stalking across the continent. The Iberian lynx is making a remarkable recovery in Spain. A small number of white-tailed eagles now hunt over the British Isles, and wild beavers have been returned to parts of Scotland after a 400-year absence.

Conservation groups are delighted and believe it shows that after thousands of years of remodelling the land, clearing woodlands for cities and farms, humankind has finally found a way to coexist with nature. As agriculture has become less profitable and farmland in some areas has been abandoned, the forests of western Europe have grown by seven per cent over the last two decades.

But not everyone is convinced we should be encouraging dangerous creatures to thrive. In the past seven years, wolves have killed 13,000 cows, sheep and goats in Spain alone, which has hit farmers hard. The lynx conservation project has also cost Spain £30m, a massive figure given the country’s economic troubles. Are countries wasting their money preserving these creatures?

Wildly irresponsible?

Some think we have a duty to look after the indigenous species of Europe and believe the continent is a much more interesting place now that its wildlife is thriving. While the number of dangerous animals like wolves needs to be controlled, our conservation successes show that man can make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.

Others say we are being naively nostalgic for a past Europe that no longer exists. Wolves were hunted and hated for centuries because of the damage they did to humans and livestock. Looking after these creatures costs a lot of money which would be better spent on helping humans, not wild beasts.

You Decide

  1. Is reintroducing wild animals into Europe a good idea?
  2. ‘Humankind has a duty to reduce its impact on the world as much as possible.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In pairs, choose a wild animal you would like to introduce to the UK. Draw up a list of things you would have to consider to help it thrive, and think about what sort of area it would live in. Compare your ideas with the class.
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an Expert’, create a fact sheet featuring four wild animals in Europe that were in danger of extinction before efforts were made to preserve them. Include information on how they are doing now.

Some People Say...

“We have only truly mastered nature when we have learned to coexist in harmony with it.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Doesn’t this only matter to people who live in the countryside?
Some say these animals became endangered because humankind either hunted them or destroyed their natural habitat, so we should all make it our duty to protect them. And just as people go on safaris to see elephants, lions and rhinos, Europe’s wildernesses repopulated with wild animals could also become attractions for tourists.
I thought bison lived in grasslands.
Most people are familiar with the herds of bison that used to roam the American plains. Yet many of Europe’s reintroduced bison live in forests, and some experts wonder whether they really belong there. They think that as humans occupied the grassland, bison found shelter in woodland. If this is true, it questions how ‘natural’ it is for the bison to be there at all.

Word Watch

Captivity
The last wild bison is thought to have been killed in 1927. Even now, there are only just over 5,000 European bison in the world, with 2,000 of them in captivity. This makes them even rarer than the endangered black rhino.
Mythology
One of the founding myths of the historic region of Moldavia, a part of which is now in Romania, tells the story of a nobleman called Dragos slaying a bison. This was supposedly a show of strength that was once required by all warriors.
Eagles
Reintroducing the eagles has proved controversial. Farmers in Suffolk were furious at plans to release them nearby. They feared that livestock would be terrified and chickens would stop laying eggs.
Troubles
While Spain’s economy has recently been growing at its fastest rate for six years, the country was severely hit by the economic crash of 2008. At the beginning of 2014, the youth unemployment rate was a record 57.7%.
Livestock
In France, some farmers reported losing 67 sheep in a single attack by a pack of wolves.

Subjects

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