Endangered bison find new home on Danish island

An endangered species of bison from Poland has been given a new home on Denmark’s Bornholm Island. One bull and six female European bison were delivered by ferry last week, with environmentalists hoping that their presence will help biodiversity on the island and increase the animals’ numbers.

The hefty creatures, which are the heaviest land mammals in Europe weighing it at 900kg and growing up to three metres long, were almost completely wiped out in the last century as people starving during the two World Wars began to hunt them for meat. The majority of the European bison (Bison bonasus) now live in the Bialowieza forest between Belarus and Poland, but even that herd is only estimated to be made up of around 800 animals.

The scheme on Bornholm is part of a Danish Nature Agency project, funded by the Villum Foundation at a total cost of DKK 4 million (EUR 538,000). It is hoped the bison will thrive on the island and increase tourism in the area.

Project manager Tommy Hansen said, “They look very well. We needed big mammals to increase the biodiversity on this island – the roe deer is the biggest mammal here,” he added. “We want to keep grassland areas open – it’s very important for butterflies and other creatures, and the bison can keep the forest back. They love to eat the bark of young trees.”

Hansen also explained that while the females on Bornholm have been brought in from Bialowieza, the male has been shipped in from Polish Silesia in the hope that the very limited European gene pool can be diversified.