In the US, July is National Bison Month but most people in Europe are totally oblivious to it. I wasn’t even aware of it before being asked to write this blog post in connection with our recent Methods in Ecology and Evolution paper about quantifying population sizes of large herbivores. Some will argue that it is because we don’t ‘do’ day, month, state or national animals on this side of the Atlantic as much as the Americans do.
But another reason is that the European bison, Bison bonasus bonasus, is simply not sufficiently well-known or associated with European nature in the public’s mind. This is particularly true in Western Europe where this species has been extinct since medieval times.
Early European accounts from North America reported huge bison populations – with estimates of up to 60 million – moving to and fro in the great bison belt. These past migratory movements across the Great Plains are familiar well beyond the US and feed our view of untamed wilderness prior to the impact of European ’civilisation’. In contrast, there are hardly any records of European bison numbers until just before the last wild one was reported killed in Poland in 1921. Continue reading →