Europe Has Its Own Bison Species That Came Back From the Brink of Extinction

Bison were just reintroduced into a stretch of Romania where they haven’t been found for two centuries

Photo: Nico van Kappel/ Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

The disappearance of the bison is a foundational story of the American West. In the 1500s, up to 60 million buffalo roamed the U.S. When Europeans arrived in the 19th century, the bison's numbers almost immediately plummeted, from disease and unsustainable levels of killing. By 1884, only around 300 bison were left in the entire country.

But people realized there might be some value in keeping bison around. Congress protected bison in Yellowstone National Park, and a few other private herds were established. The species slowly recovered (though it's still listed as near threatened). 

Europe, it turns out, has a very similar story.

This story features European bison, a distinct species. Those animals once ranged across all of lowland Europe, but began a steady march toward extinction as far back as the 8th century A.D., when they went extinct in what is today France. The European bison managed to hold out for a surprisingly long time, however. The last known wild individual was shot and killed in the Caucasus in 1927. 

Just as in the case of the American bison, however, that was not the end for the European bison. As the Guardian reports, around 50 individuals remained in captivity, and zoo keepers continued to breed them over the years. Beginning in the 1950s, a handful of countries, including Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan, became interested in reestablishing their historic bison populations, the Guardian continues.

Just this week, another 17 bison were released in Romania's Carpathian mountains, where they have not been found for at least two centuries. In total, around 3,200 animals now live in the wild in Europe. 

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