First bison calf born wild in 200 years
After centuries of absence from FZS supported project: Fagaras Mountains in Romania, European bison have finally returned
After centuries of absence from the Fagaras Mountains in Romania, European bison have finally returned. Less than a year after a herd of eight were released to roam free, FZS partner organization Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), who were involved, and local communities have received a wonderful gift. At the end of last month, the first bison calf to be born in the wild in the Fagaras in 200 years was spotted.
The bison herd, released in March, arrived in the Romanian part of the Carpathian mountain range from Germany and the Polish Carpathians in autumn last year. After careful preparation, this is the first bison release of a reintroduction program led by the FCC. The program’s feasibility study showed that 100 bison should be introduced for such a vulnerable species to settle and survive. FCC plans to gradually reintroduce about 30 individuals each at three sites in the Fagaras Mountains between which movement and migration is possible, allowing for interbreeding between sub-populations over time.
Careful planning bears fruit
“Once in the wild, the bison seemed to really explore the area systematically and of course they disabused us of our predictions of where they would go – they knew better and found all the little meadows and abandoned clear-cuts that provided them with plenty of food”, says Barbara Promberger, Executive Director of the FCC. The herd has roamed over 10,000 hectares in the past six months and appear to have adapted very well. As a result they are entering the colder months in good condition, having gained a lot of weight in the summer.
The successful calving has reassured the team that their careful efforts to ensure a smooth reintroduction are paying off. The arrival of the first calf is later than usual, but not unheard of – especially in captive-bred bison. The coming months will be crucial, as Barbara explains, “winters can be really harsh here in the mountains and it will be their first one out on their own, and now also with a late-born calf, so this is going to be a critical period”. The team will be carefully watching the bison over the coming months. The leading female has been fitted with a satellite-tracking collar, so that the reintroduced herd can be located on a daily basis. Camera traps have also been deployed in the area, and a dedicated bison monitoring team makes visual contact with the herd at least once a week to check their physical condition.
Bison have long been an important symbol in Romania, prevalent in national history and folklore. The opportunity to see free-roaming bison is a fantastic ecotourism drawcard, bringing the potential for much needed sustainable development opportunities for rural communities. As such, local people have keenly awaited their return and the arrival of the first calf has caused much excitement in the region.
More about the project
The creation of the FCC came at a critical time for Romania’s forests after the decision was taken in 2005 to pass formerly nationalised forests, including conservation areas, back to private individual ownership. This process triggered usage conflicts, and in many cases massive clear-cuts with thousands of hectares of forests illegally logged. The integrity of the Carpathian ecosystem was severely threatened. However, most of the former owners have no interest in the land and are generally willing to sell. This has given rise to a highly favourable, yet very narrow, time window in which large natural forest areas can be protected on a permanent basis. The FCC is working to purchase this land in order to create a reserve of 100,000 hectares, and are also monitoring the region’s rangers and investing in the restoration of clear-cut forests where soil erosion poses a risk to the landscape.
Photo in header taken by Daniel Rosengren