The results of a bison feasibility study in the Southern Carpathians show that most habitats in the area are very suitable for the bison. The basins of Motrul Sec, Bahna and Sebes rivers each offer over 8000 hectares for the animals – an area big enough for the minimal population patch size for the European bison.
The local rewilding team and our wildlife advisor Joep van de Vlasakker explored the area with the highest potential, the watershed of Râul Alb (White river) to start a re-introduction project based on habitat suitability, landownership and community support. Two field trips were organized to examine different sites and to look at the different criteria for a good re-introduction site. In addition to the suitability of the habitat, the area must also be well protected, have low human impact, landowner agreements, local community support and limited road infrastructure, yet still be accessible.
The watershed of Râul Alb is part of the Southern Carpathians rewilding area, and also part of the Natura 2000 site in the Țarcu Mountains Natura 2000 site. The area is stretching mainly in the alpine zone of the Țarcu Mountains – Muntele Mic and the surrounding forests.
The county of Armenis has offered Rewilding Europe a larger piece of land in the area, to build an acclimatization and rewilding zone in which the animals can recover after transport, stay under veterinary surveillance and get used to living in semi-wild conditions as a preparation for their release to full freedom.
With this offer in the pocket, the local team has found a very good area for the reintroduction. The local forest administration has also been very co-operative to discuss expanding the rewilding zone in the forest administration land.
The size of the minimum viable population was also determined in the study. Based on similar reintroductions, it is crucial for a successful restoration program in Southern Carpathians to have at least 3–4 groups of animals released in the same location to establish a viable herd of 20–25 individuals.
The benefits of starting a reintroduction with nearly adult or young animals (no more than 3–4 years old) may outweigh the possible benefits of starting with socially intact and mature groups, because these animals will develop the necessary social organization on their own in a way that matches the habitat.
In the coming months the team will work on preparing the infrastructure so the first bison can be released in the area already this year.