European Bison, the foodies of the wild
The way the largest terrestrial mammal in Europe feeds influences both other animal species, plants and humans. They have been dubbed landscape architects and natural firefighters because they perform essential functions of protecting and growing biodiversity in a vast area of forests and meadows. Together we can get to know the European bison better and support them to enjoy the benefits of nature.
Bison food and positive impact on the environment
Bison can consume an average of 32 kg of food per day! It shape the landscape using this big appetite for grass, bark and seedlings and its huge body creating open areas in the forest, access and feeding paths for other smaller herbivores, such as rodeer, deer, wild boar. Large carnivores such as bear, wolf and lynx then follow in the footsteps of the herbivores.
The European bison, being a ruminant, uses a wide range of plant food, having the ability to digest lignin, more developed than other ungulates, being an adaptation of the species to forest life. The diet consists of plant species accessible under natural conditions. In spring it prefers the young buds and vines of trees and shrubs, preferring willow, hornbeam and aspen. In summer it consumes succulent herbs, especially until flowering, shoots and young leaves, parts of trees and shrubs. In winter, the consumption of shoots, seeds and bark increases (between 20 and 60%), bison preferring the bark of hornbeam, ash and willow.
By consuming tree bark and creating open areas in forest, bison are natural “firefighters”, prevent the dispersal of possible fires and are indispensable for the restoration of forests and meadows.
They scatter over 200 species of plants, which helps increase the biodiversity of the flora and the number of pollinators. Over 596 invertebrate and vertebrate animals benefit from the presence of bison according to Peolarends et al. (2012).
Adapting to wild food
All bison reintroduced to the Southern Carpathians go through a period of acclimatization in which they discover the new environment and local climate before being released. Some animals regain their survival instincts more slowly than others depending on the frequency of their interaction with humans and the feeding habits acquired in the former reservations.
Bison, like many other species, depend on natural salt reserves to feed on the minerals needed for digestion. Because it takes time to find them in the wild after they have been released, rangers place mineralized and vitaminized salt in the most frequented places.
“After the first year of freedom, we can see how they become independent. It is a joy to research and analyze data from the field, what types of trees are preferred, which habitat is frequented and in what season. ” says Matei Miculscu, ranger in the Bison Hillock, Armeniș. “But we are most happy when they feel our presence and run away! It’s exactly what we want! For them to become wild! ” adds Matei.
Bison, like all wild animals, end up trying to feed on food placed out by hunting associations. It is important to note that corn, although an interesting snack, cannot be fully processed by the bison’s digestive system and does not provide the energy necessary for its survival.
Interesting! Bison were caught on camera eating grass alongside wild boar and a deer, without fear, which tells us that these animals gladly share food and their habitat.
Feeding in exceptional conditions
Specialists such as Dr. Rafał Kowalczyk, co-author of the new assessment that removed bison from the list of vulnerable species, and member of the IUCN SSC Bison Specialists Group, stress the need for protected areas that include a diversity of habitats: forests and grasslands that would provide bison with the necessary food and territory, or additional feeding in extreme conditions, to keep bison away from cultivated land.
Bison in the wild have adapted well to winter conditions, but harsh winters, when snow is plentiful, continue to pose a threat to the survival of the most fragile or recently reintroduced into the wild and inexperienced, due to the fact that several generations have been kept in captivity.
LIFE Bison rangers track group movements using GPS collars, monitor their health and see if there are individuals who apear weak, then intervene with extra food. The hay is bought from the local communities, and some locals, understanding and following ancient traditions, also leave orchards with old trees for the benefit of wild animals.
“The reserves of hay and vitamins are transported near the rewilding area for easy access in case of need. From here, the rangers “deliver” them to the home of the bison, in the most frequented points, to make sure that the bison will survive the harsh winters well. ” says Florin Hălăștăuan, the rangers’ coordinator.
Bison, our neighbors in the wild
European bison are a wild species, and like any other (bear, wolf, lynx, deer, etc.) it does not know the boundaries or rules imposed by humans. In order to maintain a harmonious relationship, we adopt preventive solutions such as feeding in harsh winters, installing electric fences, using virtual fences that signal by SMS the presence of bison in risk areas, intervention groups to drive them away in delicate situations or tranquilizing and moving individuals in extreme situations.
Access to accurate and useful information for the whole community, from farmers to children and local authorities is important to understand and maintain respect between people and bison.
We invite you to carefully and enthusiastically review the following materials designed by the LIFE Bison project team, and funded with support from the European Union through the LIFE program:
- A short animation designed for all ages, communities and tourists, which explains how we should behave around free bison whether we are walking, driving or cycling.
- An informative poster with clear and simple points to follow to be safe.
- A detailed leaflet about the behavior of bison and the actions we take to maintain harmony with these gentle but imposing animals.
Remember! Bison should not be fed by humans except in extreme cases when specialists intervene. They should not get used to human presence because they risk getting used to it, and corn or other food is not favorable to them, they have enough options in nature. Bison are a species protected by law, and the project is carried out with the support of the Ministry of Environment, the National Agency for Protected Natural Areas, the Romanian Academy and the European Commission.
Together we can make sure that European bison have the necessary conditions to adapt and thrive in the environment that was so familiar to them 200 years ago.
Follow the challenges and passion of the people who live and work in the heart of wild nature in the video series Bison Hillock Diary (Jurnal din Măgura Zimbrilor).
The reintroduction of bison in the Southern Carpathians is carried out within the project ” Urgent actions for the recovery of European Bison populations in Romania”, implemented by WWF Romania and Rewilding Europe, with financial support from the European Union, through the LIFE Program and with the help of local communities.
- Find out more about the LIFE Bison project
- Watch the animation which explains human-bison coexistence
- Visit the Bison Hillock rewilding area with European Safari Company or WeWilder
- Follow the action in the field on the Facebook project page
IUCN Red List, Bison – https://www.iucn.org/commissions/ssc-groups/mammals/mammals-a-e/bison
LIFE Bison, – www.life-bison.com
Krasińska, Małgorzata, Krasiński, Zbigniew A. 2013 – European Bison, The Nature Monograph,
Ida Hartvig, Andy G. Howe, Emilie N. B. Schmidt, Cino Pertoldi, Jeppe Lund Nielsen, Rita M. Buttenschøn, 2020 – Diet of the European bison (Bison bonasus) in a forest habitat estimated by DNA barcoding
Peolarends et al. (2012) – https://rewildingeurope.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Bison-Rewilding-Plan-2014.pdf
Blog entries express the views and opinions of their authors, which might not always fully overlap with those of Rewilding Europe.