Bison used to live in Hungary once upon a time, but by the beginning of the 20th century, they were all exterminated. The species only survived thanks to zoos. But now because of a unique project, they can live in the wild in a unique part of the country.
Őrség National Park has moved wild European bison next to Kondorfa, to a 70-hectare territory, which has been closed off from people and given back to nature. Csaba Németh, deputy director of Őrség National Park, talked about the bison reserve to InfoRádió, he said that they have been thinking about a place where nature could “operate on its own” in Central Europe where human agriculture has such influence, ever since the national park’s founding in 2002, wrote infostart.hu.
They have also been giving some thought to which large species could have lived here but since have disappeared, that would make the scenery completely different. “So was the plan born, to bring European bison that lived here before, and formed the scenery with their nutrition, movements and behaviour. Let’s make a wilderness, where nature can operate as it did when it was still untouched,” explained Csaba Németh.
The territory chosen for this plan is located at the edge of Kondorfa, the Hungarian state purchased the real estate in the area for years. Now there are 70 hectares available to the animals. In the 1960-70s, these areas were mostly used as plows; now, they function as a lawn. But there used to be way more forest here than there is now. The deputy director says that there is no need to plant trees, as Őrség will take care of that; if an area is left alone, a forest will grow there. “The bison will regulate it, how much space the forest would take up.”
He also added that the subspecies that used to live in our area has wholly died out. Out of the other two subspecies, there are several lowland ones alive, but there is only one male from the highland ones. Previously these largest herbivorous animals occurred in major parts of Europe. European bison disappeared from the Carpathian Basin in the 18th century, in Őrség they were pushed East from West, by 1919 they disappeared from the emblematic occurring place on the border of Belarus, in Poland, known as Bialowieza jungle, and by 1927, from the Caucasus, where the last ones living in the wild were seen.
12 ancient specimen were collected from zoos and bred, and so began the modern story of the bison.
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“This is one of the success stories of nature protection, as there are over 3000 animals accounted for today, they live in the wilderness in several places in Europe. In Őrség there are six cows and one bull living in the new wilderness now. In Zalafő-Pityerszer, on a 10-hectare display area – where these animals lived before – other species can be observed as well: four calves from last year, a calf from this year and its mother, as well as two three-year-old bulls,” said Csaba Németh.
Tourists cannot go into the closed-off area; the animals that can be potentially dangerous to humans currently live entirely sealed off. But there might be a chance that later guided tours will take place – with the proper security measures, of course. Until then, the public can view the bison in Szalafő’s display area.