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Enthusiasts happy with the return of the invisible wisent

Dutch coastal park their habitat

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ZANDVOORT - The wisent, also known as the European bison, a huge animal that was reintroduced in the Netherlands two years ago, appears to do well, and is thriving in its new habitat. Experts say the wisent had disappeared from the Nether-lands in the last ice age.

A small herd of six wisents was brought to the Netherlands from Poland to live in the Zuid-Kenne-merland National Park, a nature reserve located be-tween the seaport of IJmuiden and the beach resort of Zandvoort. All the animals fit in their new habitat as a fiddle, and have increased in number to ten.

As recent as about 50 years ago, the wisent as a species was almost extinct. There were just a few left, living in animal parks. The breeding program of the Poles, with the subsequent return of the animals into a natural environment, is considered to be one of the biggest ecological success stories of the 20th Century.


The reintroduction of the wisent into the Nether-lands occurred with much debate during which all the pros and cons were weighed extensively, including questions such as the effect on the new surroundings: would the wisent present a danger to visitors, what about the effect on plant and wildlife, could Scottish highland cattle and wild horses not graze in the park?

No one needed to have worried about safety. The hulking animals have not once been involved in an incident. Just like almost all other wild animal species, they tend to stay out of the way of humans. It has been difficult for wisent enthusiasts to spot the herd in the park, although it is a relatively small nature reserve.

Plant life has not suffered as some people had feared. Instead, plant life has thrived even more since the wisent control weeds, such as the monkshood of which the park has far too many.


Naturalist activists, including those who opposed the reintroduction of the wisent, say that the natural habitat in which the wisents feel at home, has unwittingly been recreated. They see a pattern in this and point to the resurfacing of the wolf in areas in Ger-many from which this beast of prey has long been absent. In the Netherlands, wild boars have grown to such numbers that a significant percentage gets culled each year.

One naturalist foresees a situation in which whole herds will roam freely through Europe if the European ecological infrastructure, a network of interconnected nature reserves, one day becomes a reality. Others are not so optimistic. They cite damage to crops, to road kill, which not only ends the life of the animal but generates insurance claims by vehicle owners and injures people.