Last Wednesday marked the birth of the first bison calf in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area. European bison arrived to the Studen Kladenets Reserve in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria at the end of October 2013. The newborn bison calf is healthy, in good condition and well accepted by its parents.
The European bison is the largest herbivore in Europe and a key species in the development of open forest ecosystems. It got extinct in the wild in Bulgaria (and in Europe) in the Middle Ages in the early 20th century, due to severe hunting pressure and habitat loss. A large-scale breeding and reintroduction programme based on individuals remaining in captivity, re-established wild populations in areas of Central and Eastern Europe – with a stronghold in Poland and Belarus. The reintroduction of a small herd of European bison also took place in the sixties in a hunting reserve in Northern Bulgaria.
The European bison brought from Germany to Studen Kladenets Reserve in the Eastern Rhodopes in October 2013 have been grazing in an acclimatization zone so far, with the aim to establish a breeding site for this species. This would be the first step towards reintroduction of the species in the Rhodope Mountains done by the New Thracian Gold project, now taken care of by the Rewilding Rhodopes initiative. The reintroduction was the highlight of the two-year project ‘’The wild world of the Eastern Rhodopes“, funded by the American for Bulgaria Foundation.
The bison calf is is the first bison born in the Rhodopes after several centuries. During the first days after the birth, both the calf and its parents were hiding in the forest. The parents demonstrated a highly protective behaviour. They are both guarding and taking care of the calf to the extent that the calf is constantly by their side. At this moment, the gender of the calf is still unknown. In the coming days when the calf gets stronger and goes out to the open areas it will become clear if it is a male or a female bison.
The America for Bulgaria Foundation has supported the bison in Studen Kladenets Reserve, in partnership with the Dutch organization ARK Nature and the Union of the Hunters and Anglers in Bulgaria. In 2014 the Rhodope Mountains became a part of Rewilding Europe as one of the eight rewilding areas across Europe. Work on European bison in the Rhodope Mountains is now part of this new initiative.