The Near Extinction of European Bison: A Human-Impacted History

    Explore the tumultuous history of European bison, nearly driven to extinction by climate change and human activities. Learn how conservation efforts aim to revive their populations.


    The European bison, or żubr, faced near extinction primarily due to rapid environmental changes and human activities, according to recent research. Once roaming the continent in large herds, by the late 18th century, they only survived in the Caucasus and Białowieża Forest. Complete extinction in the wild occurred by 1927, leaving around 60 individuals in captivity.

    Unraveling the Causes

    Researchers from the Institute of Mammal Biology in Białowieża and the University of Adelaide analyzed bone remains, fossil DNA, paleoclimatic models, and human demographic data to understand the causes of the bison’s extinction. Climate change around 14.7 thousand years ago reduced their range, but human activities, including hunting, sealed their fate.

    Human Influence on Bison’s Demise

    Human activities, particularly hunting with firearms post-1500, significantly reduced the bison’s range in northern and eastern Europe. Changes in land use further diminished their population in the west and south. Human impact, combined with climatic shifts, thwarted bison recovery despite improved environmental conditions.

    Contemporary Conservation Efforts

    Today, approximately 7,300 European bison, with over 2,600 in Poland, roam freely, a result of international conservation efforts. The study suggests potential reintroduction areas in Poland, Ukraine, and western Russia. The maps generated by the research could guide conservation efforts, especially crucial amid concerns for the bison population in Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.

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