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August 15, 2022

A Bright Future for the European Bison in the Southern Carpathians

Until 9 years ago, there were no free roaming bison in Romania. Now, over 100 bison have been released and born in the wild at Bison Hillock in the South-West Carpathians of Romania. 

The reintroduction involved a complex team of  experts and rangers from Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania32 breeding centres and reserves in Europe, 28 GPS collars and 14 transports just during the last 6 years as part of the LIFE RE-Bison Project. And, of course, ‘Careful selection of the bison, taking age, gender and genetic background, group formation before translocation and the correct choice of transporter into account have contributed to the animals’ adaptability and increased their chances of survival”, says Mariana Drugă, LIFE RE-Bison Project Manager, WWF-Romania. But now,‘The calves born in the wild between 2016 and 2021 show us that the habitat is favourable and the species can successfully recover‘, she adds.

In a world where biodiversity is rapidly declining, our food system being one of the culprits (just 9 plant species account for 66% of the total agricultural harvest globally) – it is good to have these bison act as landscape architects.[1] They consume around 32 kg of food per day, and while doing so, they spread the seeds of over 200 plants, maintaining the variety of flowers on which pollinators like bees depend on, and ultimately ourselves.

In the beginning, the relationship between the local communities and the bison was prickly – over 9 km of electric fence was installed by project rangers to maintain harmonious relationships with local communities after some bison ventured into some neatly piled hay in backyards – now most locals (89% of the people in Armeniș and Densuș, according to the sociological survey carried out in 2020), consider the European bison to be a beautiful animal and important for the environment.

The future looks bright for bison, and because of them, for the communities too
The bison are the centrepiece of a complex vision in which nature becomes the engine of development for the region and a source of wealth for local communities. This is thanks to the continuous efforts invested in ecotourism, community development, education, research, and technological innovation for the benefit of nature and people alike. WWF wants to identify and introduce sustainable nature-based solutions for a better tomorrow for the local and urban communities to support biodiversity in one of Europe’s largest wilderness areas. For example, WeWilderpowered by WWF PandaLabshelps people discover nature – learning, working and living sustainably in its own built campus or local houses. The initiative has encouraged the establishment of a local association called AMZA which has become a local partner in developing and offering ecotourism services (e.g. accommodation and meals, specialised guides) and local products. 250 tourists have chosen, each year, bison tracking experiences, and 30 households benefited from these too, by offering food and accommodation services, local products and guidance for tourists.
LIFE RE-Bison Layman’s Report and the Good Practice Guide

Each success has meant a lot of work in the field, research, many collaborations and the determination to face the challenges of legislative gaps in the reintroduction of the species and post-release management. The closing event of the LIFE RE-Bison project shows us that interest in the project has increased at local and national level, but also that there is a need for a unified strategy that can continue to secure the future of the bison in the Carpathians‘ – Orieta Hulea, CEO WWF-Romania

The second rewilding phase will include continued management and monitoring of the existing bison population to keep the animals safe and healthy, as well as efforts that enable local people to derive even greater benefit from the bison presence. A stakeholder network will also be created to enhance bison monitoring and keep human-bison relations harmonious. Moreover, the rewilding team will focus on improving the legal framework for bison reintroduction and management, and set up a management model for the species. They will propose a national action plan for European bison conservation and a national conservation strategy for European bison to the Romanian Ministry of the Environment, as well as a clear procedure for the management of free-ranging bison populations.

Concluding Conference

In order to bring all collaborators together and to keep the effort for the conservation of the European bison alive, an event consolidating the results and challenges of the LIFE RE-Bison Project and similar initiatives in Romania was held on September 23-24 in Armeniș, Romania, including a bison tracking experience in the Bison Hillock. Representatives of the Ministry of Environment, the National Forestry Agency – Romsilva, the National Agency for Protected Natural Areas – Caraș-Severin Territorial Service, the Caraș-Severin County Forest Guard, Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Directorate of Reșița, Teregova Forestry School, Municipality of Armeniș, Vânători Neamț Nature Park, Porțile de Fier Nature Park, Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park, Semenic National Park, Cheile Nerei – Beusnița National Park, Conservation Carpathia Foundation, USAMV Cluj-Napoca, Armeniș and Teregova schools and the press took part in the conference.

The LIFE RE-Bison Project ‘Urgent Actions for the Recovery of European Bison Populations in Romania’ was implemented by WWF-Romania and Rewilding Europe, with financial support from the European Union through the LIFE Programme (LIFE14 NAT/NL/000987).

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