Guess Who’s Back? European Bison in Slovakia 

It seemed that the European Bison was one of those extinct species that used to live also in Slovakia. However, it has recently been successfully reintroduced to the Poloniny National Park, which makes it one of few places in Europe where it lives in the wild today.   

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Herd of european bison, bison bonasus, crossing a river
Photo: iStock.com / JMrocek

Maintaining vulnerable animal species to prevent them from extinction is a sensitive topic in many parts of the world. For several centuries, it seemed like the presence of European Bison in Slovakia was a legend. Various accounts date the last European Bison in Slovakia all the way to the 15th century when the famous ruler Matthias Corvinus allegedly caught the last one while hunting. Others place the last sighting closer to the 17th century.

European bison in Slovakia

Once populous across Europe, the European Bison barely managed to survive into the 20th century. Only 54 individuals were maintained in strictly guarded reservations, according to the Poloniny National Park website. More recently, the overall population of the European Bison has increased, with Poloniny National Park being one of the places that contributes to it.  

Poloniny National Park is the easternmost national park in Slovakia, near where the borders of Slovakia, Ukraine, and Poland meet. With 37 endemic species, it contains many animals not found elsewhere in the country. Among these are the European bison and elk, which sometimes come over from Poland.  

The reintroduction of the European Bison would not have been possible without international cooperation with the Netherlands co-funding its return program. Before importing the animal back to the national park, five individuals were picked with genetic attributes closest to the European Bisons in the Bieszczady Mountains in Poland, just across the border.

An international collaboration

Previously, European bison regularly migrated from Poland to Poloniny, which also lay the grounds for its reintroduction. Individual bison were placed into an acclimatization facility in the local village of Ruské. Finally, eleven European Bisons, eight cows, and three bulls were imported into the national park. The herd has since grown to over 40 bison.

The return of the European Bison has helped to maintain the state of biotopes in the region, where it once belonged. Perhaps other animals in threat of extinction, including the Elk, may be saved in the national parks of Slovakia. 

Martin Hochel

Martin Hochel comes from Bratislava, Slovakia, and has also lived in Belgium and the UK. He holds a BA in history and politics from Birkbeck College, University of London and is currently studying for his masters at the Central European University in Vienna in nationalism studies. Martin also works as a junior analyst at the Government Office of the Slovak Republic. In his free time, he likes to read, play the piano, and travel.

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