LIFE Project Cover Photo

Urgent actions for the recovery of European Bison populations in Romania

Reference: LIFE14 NAT/NL/000987 | Acronym: LIFE RE-Bison

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BACKGROUND

The European bison (Bison bonasus) or wisent, is Europe’s largest wild land mammal. It once roamed all across the continent. However, it was hunted to near extinction by 1927, when only 54 individuals remained, all in captivity. A slow but successful breeding and reintroduction effort in Central and Eastern Europe helped to re-establish a wild population.

Today, the population of the European bison in Romania is around 140 animals, of which 63 are in the wild. The Southern Carpathians are one of the most favourable areas to initiate a large-scale European bison reintroduction, because the area has little fragmentation and low human intrusion. This will enable the establishment of a bison meta-population, formed of various sub-populations interconnected through ecological corridors.

After a pre-feasibility study (2011) and a detailed feasibility study (2013), the Armenis-Plopu area in the Tarcu Mountains has been selected for the reintroduction of the European bison. Local authorities, stakeholders and community leaders in this area welcomed the idea of the bison reintroduction, and offered 70 ha of communal land plus 60 ha of forest for the first introduction. Since May 2014, 17 individuals have been released into the wild and 18 more are being prepared for release.


OBJECTIVES

The overall aim of the LIFE RE-Bison project was to enable the successful recovery of the European bison in the Tarcu and Poiana Rusca Mountains in southwest Romania. The specific objectives were to:

  •  Establish a free-roaming, genetically and demographically viable sub-population of the European bison, comprising around 185 animals;
  •  Create new economic activities in the area based on the bison;
  •  Reduce conflicts between these bison and rural economic activities;
  •  Stimulate a positive attitude among local stakeholders in support of the European bison; and
  •  Increase public awareness and interest in the conservation of the European bison.

 


RESULTS

LIFE RE-Bison helped return the European bison (Bison bonasus) to the Carpathians, where it became extinct around 200 years ago. The project team re-introduced European bison initially in two Natura 2000 sites, in the Tarçu mountains and Poiena Rusca mountains in southwest Romania.

During the project, 14 bison transportations took place, moving 91 animals in total. Following some deaths, and 38 calves born in the wild, there are currently over 100 animals roaming in the wild. According to Red List Guidelines (2019) and the new assessment of the species by the IUCN (2020), a bison population is considered viable when it reaches a minimum viable population (MVP) size of 150 mature individuals, with adequate natural selection dynamics. Population reinforcement is planned in the After-LIFE period to achieve this.

Additionally, the project team established a reproduction centre at Grădina Zoo in Hunedoara, Romania. The initial Poiena introduction site had to close down due to issues with the local hunting association. These animals were transported (in the LIFE re-introduction project LIFE18 NAT/RO/001082) to the Făgăraș Mountains in Romania, and the infrastructure in Poiena was removed.

The project team monitored all the bison, using nine different techniques. They fitted GPS collars to 28 animals, for which they also deployed virtual fences. They also implemented direct bison observation, indirect bison observation, DNA monitoring, parasitological monitoring, human-bison conflict monitoring, telemetry monitoring, health status monitoring, camera trap monitoring, and monitoring of the other species present.

Much information was gained through various studies, and the project team complied this to produce a rewilding guide. As part of the bison management strategy, they developed a conflict protocol and put in place a local intervention team. The project team also installed a nature observation centre, and two huts for rangers.

Considerable work was done to promote ecotourism, and more than 200 tourists visited the Bison Hillock rewilding site during the project, between 2016 and 2021. The project team also established an education programme for schoolchildren, including nature workshops, field trips, and an activity manual.

The project team took part in over 200 meetings and consultations, and other networking activities, especially to actively involve and positively influence national and local authorities and stakeholders. They also organised nine photography exhibitions, produced a documentary that was selected for screening at 10 national and international festivals, and engaged a large audience via social media and the project website.

ADMINISTRATIVE DATA


Reference: LIFE14 NAT/NL/000987
Acronym: LIFE RE-Bison
Start Date: 01/01/2016
End Date: 30/09/2021
Total Eligible Budget: 1,816,991 €
EU Contribution: 1,362,735 €
Project Location:

CONTACT DETAILS


Coordinating Beneficiary: Stichting Rewilding Europe
Legal Status: PNC
Address: Toernooiveld 1, 6525ED, Nijmegen, Nederland
Contact Person: Dana Bezdickova
Email: Send Email
Website: Visit Website


LIFE Project Map

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ADDRESSED

THEMES

  • Mammals

KEYWORDS

  • introduction of animal species
  • tourism
  • conflict of interests

TARGET EU LEGISLATION

  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020” (03.05.2011)
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directive (21.05.1992)

TARGET HABITAT TYPES

  • 0 - Non applicable (i.e.species project)

SPECIES

  • Bison bonasus

NATURA 2000 SITES

Type Code Name
SCI ROSCI0126 Munții Țarcu
SCI ROSCI0292 Coridorul Rusca Montană - Țarcu - Retezat

BENEFICIARIES

Name Type
Stichting Rewilding Europe Coordinator
WWF RO(Asociatia WWF Programul Dunare Carpati Romania), Romania Participant

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