Nearly one-third of the world’s bison population which currently roams the Polish nature reserves was recreated from a small number of individuals, making their gene pool limited and the species prone to disease.
According to Małgorzata Golińska, Deputy Environment Minister, conserving bison is not just about protecting a national symbol of Poland; it is linked to the survival of Europe's last primeval forest, the 8,000-year-old Bialowieża forest in northeast Poland, bordering Belarus.
Around 16 percent of the Polish part of the Białowieża forest is a national park and home to about 600 bison. Currently the environmentalists are trying to “diffuse” the Polish bison population into other parts of the country.
“Recently we released a few bison into the wild in Augustów forest, and at the moment they are doing well” Ms Golińska said, referring to a region about 100 km west of Białowieża, adding that Polish bison have also been “exported” to Spain and Bulgaria.
She explained that when the capacity of the natural environment is being filled to the limit, the likelihood of conflict with the human population increases, as bison harm farmers’ crops.
“As recently as five years ago, we allotted compensation of up to PLN 400,000 (EUR 100,000). Nowadays the number reached PLN 1.4 mln (EUR 350,000) annually.
The European bison is a rare species which become extinct in the wild in the early 20th century due to excessive hunting. The animals surviving in captivity were later used to recreate the bison population and reintroduce the species to its natural habitat. The bison is Europe's heaviest land mammal, weighing up to 800 kg. Although they are naturally shy it is possible to see them in the wild.
In Poland, the bison is considered to be the country’s national animal. The Polish population is one of the largest, with more than 1,800 animals now reported to live in the wild. According to the data supplied by the National Forest Holding, the bison population has grown by nearly 1,200 since 1998.