For the first time in centuries, a European bison, or wisent, has been born in the wild in Germany, conservationists announced on Tuesday. The calf, which arrived early this month, belongs to a herd that was released in April.
The young wisent seems "perky," said Jochen Born, a ranger at Wisent Welt Wittgenstein, the forest sanctuary surrounding the western German town of Bad Berleberg that is home to the animals. But any hikers hoping to catch a glimpse of the typically shy bison should keep their distance, he added, because the species is known for fiercely protecting its young.
The calf is the fifth to be born since the sanctuary began its project to reintroduce European bison to their native habitat. The fact that it was born outside of a corral in the Rothaar Mountain region is a "great success," its website said.
The powerful animals were hunted to extinction in the wild long ago, and all of the roughly 3,000 wisents alive today are the descendants of only about a dozen original animals that survived in zoos. Most of today's wild European bison population lives in the forest in eastern Poland. In Germany, Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, 78, one of the most important forest owners in the country, hopes to prove that active species conservation can be combined with forestry.
Years of scientific study preceded the release of the herd of nine wisents. However, one question still remains: Whether the bison, which are one of Europe's largest animals and can weigh up to a metric ton, pose a danger to hikers or mountain bikers. A popular hiking trail called the Rothaarstieg passes directly through the area where they have been reintroduced, though encounters are unlikely due to their shyness.