They once used to roam around Europe in large herds but since the Middle Ages they have been on the verge of extinction. We are talking about the European bison, a close relative of the American buffalo. Bison are believed to have disappeared from the Czech lands many centuries ago. But this week, one - or perhaps a couple were spotted in the woods of the Jizerske Mountains in North Bohemia.
The animal is believed to have strayed into the area from Poland where bison are bred in game parks. The closest one is about 300 kilometres away from the North Bohemian district of Frydlant where the bison was spotted. Forester Jaroslav Machacek is one of the lucky few who have seen the rare animal.
"A colleague phoned me and described to me the place where he'd just seen the bison grazing. So I took my cameras and drove there. First I saw hoofprints on the grass and then I saw the animal about 25 metres away from me, lying on the ground, chewing the cud and paying absolutely no attention to me. So I took a few photos, a few shots. The conditions weren't ideal but as documentary material for me, it is good enough."
Jaroslav Machacek estimates the bison is about two metres tall and weighs 700-800 kilograms. He saw the animal at an altitude of 900 metres above sea level which he says isn't the bison's natural environment. Judging from its hoofprints it stayed there for a couple of days and then moved downhill where there is more food on offer, such as unharvested fields, the leaves of deciduous trees and plants. Because the bison has been spotted on quite a large area, some believe there might even be more than one animal roaming around the Frydlant district.
Bison - or zubr in Czech - used to be plentiful in Bohemia - as we can still see from the names of villages: Zubri, Zuberec, Zubrnice. But their greatest enemy - man - caused the bison population in Europe to shrink to only hundreds. The Czech Republic has only around 40 head of bison living in Zoos. The wild specimen that was spotted this week will probably not stay for long. It is likely to wander away soon from the densely populated Czech Republic, in search of quieter pastures.
More information about the European bison can be found at www.zubry.com
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