Two more European bison released to advance rewilding in the Rhodope Mountains
2020. 11. 04.

"Two more bison released to advance rewilding in the Rhodope Mountains

European bison are now roaming free in the Rhodope Mountains of southern Bulgaria for the first time in centuries. With the reintroduced herd already multiplying, the addition of two more animals will boost herd viability and resilience.      

Continuing a historic reintroduction  

Bison rewilding in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area in Bulgaria took another step forward at the end of last week with the arrival of two young females from zoos in Hungary and Slovakia. When a herd of seven European bison were released into the Studen Kladenets Reserve (part of the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area) last year, it was the first time the species had roamed free in the Rhodope Mountains for centuries. Following the subsequent birth of three calves (one in 2019, two in 2020), last week's arrival will further boost the herd.

As they roam free with the existing herd in the Rhodope Mountains, the newly arrived bison will live alongside deer, wolves, vultures and many other rare and endangered species. As in the Southern Carpathians of Romania, where Rewilding Europe and partners have been reintroducing bison since 2014, the animals will have a positive impact on local wild nature. As a keystone species, they will help to create biodiversity-rich mosaic landscapes (a mixture of wooded areas and open grassland) through their grazing and browsing, as well as enhance local food chains. The fact that the bison reintroduced last year are already giving birth is a good indication that they are adjusting well to their life in the wild. 

picture: IVO DANCHEV 

"We are hopeful that these latest animals will also settle in quickly to their new home," says Dr. Hristo Hristov, Rewilding Officer with the Rewilding Rhodopes team. "Our long-term goal is to increase the size and improve the genetic diversity of the herd in order to create a more robust and viable breeding group."  

Scaling up 

Once widespread across Europe, wild European bison were driven to extinction in the early twentieth century by hunting and habitat loss. Thanks to various reintroduction programmes around Europe, around 8500 European bison exist today (with about 6200 living free in the wild). Rewilding Europe is supporting efforts to return this magnificent animal to its ancestral lands, establishing wild bison populations in the Southern Carpathians and Rhodope Mountains and assisting with its comeback elsewhere.

Rewilding Europe has been working to restore a European bison population in Bulgaria's Eastern Rhodope Mountains since late 2013, when five animals arrived at Studen Kladenets from Germany. After the animals adapted to their new enclosure, 2015 saw the first bison born in the Rhodopes for centuries (in captivity) added to the herd. In November 2017 two more bison were donated by Suhl Zoo in Germany, a former game reserve dedicated to breeding endangered European species. In early 2019, the herd was released into the wild and since then, three calves were born. 

The role of zoos 

The latest bison reintroductions are a donation from two European zoos - the Sóstó Zoo (in collaboration with Miskolc Zoo) in Hungary and the Bratislava Zoo in Slovakia. The two animals were selected for their genetic suitability, following the advice of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). "

SóstóZoo -who is full member for the EAZA -has been keeping and breeding the European bison since 2003, successfully. 

The last offspring which was temporarily hand reared and  after her overall recovery was loaned to Miskolc Zoo.

SóstóZoo is really proud because this is the first animal from its livestock that has been reintroduced to the wild.