More and more bison. They cause damage. Who would want to shoot them and why?
Photo: Tomasz Słomczyński
Niunia weighs half a ton and is doing well for now. But one day it will get old. Will she then have to be shot, like other bisons? Is it necessary to reduce the size of the growing population of these majestic animals in Poland? Or maybe it’s enough to use firecrackers instead of hunting bullets?
– Here you go, Niunia, here you go… Come on, Niunia…
Niunia weighs about half a ton. He scowls and step by step approaches Maciej, who is holding a carton of apples. Niunia bends down, takes it to her mouth and bites the fruit. Behind her, a second bison approaches, followed by a third and more. When the second one tries to catch up with the first one, there is a quick reaction: suddenly Niunia’s body, which weighs several hundred kilograms, becomes as light as a feather. There is a quick kick, half stomp, and in the blink of an eye, the third one in the apple queue moves back a few meters away from Maciej, who is holding a carton of fruit.
– There is a strictly established hierarchy in the herd – explains the naturalist. – The bisons that have the highest position in the herd, the guides, have access to apples. The rest can watch from a distance – while saying this, Maciej throws the apple further, where a whole crowd of cows and calves looking from under the bull has already gathered.
An apple not for the forest bison
Maciej Tracz is vice-president of the West Pomeranian Nature Society, which takes care of bisons in western Poland (West Pomeranian, Lubusz and Greater Poland voivodeships). Thanks to the efforts of this organization, over 18 years the bison population increased from 22 individuals (2005) to 349 (counting took place at the end of 2022). Currently, these animals live in about eleven herds (sometimes the herds merge or divide, so it is not possible to give an exact number), numbering from five to sixty individuals.
Here, at the training ground in Drawsko Pomorskie, there are about 80 bisons. They don’t mind the gunshots, they’re used to it. They also do not get in the way of the military. And since the area is closed to outsiders, they live here as if they were living in God’s house.
Maciej points out that the “training ground” herd is unique – in the sense that it is much less timid than other herds.
– This may be because we are on a training ground where there are no human settlements, walkers or mushroom pickers nearby. Other herds that live in a normal forest behave in such a way that when you come 50 meters away, you only hear a thud and they are gone.
Hence the apples and almost hand feeding. This would not be possible with other herds and no naturalist tries to do it. The winter feeding of these animals amounts to approximately 20 percent of their diet and does not serve to satisfy hunger. These animals live in the wild and have to fend for themselves. Basically, all the efforts of naturalists caring for bisons are focused on keeping them in the forest, away from their two-legged neighbors. One method is to leave food, for example beets, in specific places. Just to prevent bison from going out into the fields in search of food.
Bison in the field
Problems with bisons occur from time to time throughout Poland. However, they are most severe where the herds are the largest, for example around the Białowieża Forest. “On Tuesday, May 23 (2023 – ed.), at the District Office in Hajnówka, there was a heated discussion about the damage caused by bison from a free-living herd in the Białowieża Forest. Due to the destruction of the forest, this herd stays far outside the forest, trampling farmers’ fields by all year round. (…) – We are greatly harmed by bisons – said Alina Ojdana, chairwoman of the Korona Agriculture Trade Union. – Therefore, we will not give up until the bison is included on the list of pests and animals that directly threaten humans – we read on the hajnowka website .naszemiasto.pl.
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