From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published March 14, 2013 12:50 PM

German Home for the Bison to Roam

What would you do if you owned 30,000 acres in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany? While this area is one of the country's most densely populated states, this vast acreage is covered with Norwegian spruce and beech trees and owned by Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. So what has this royal decided to do with his land? Fulfill his dream of reintroducing bison known as wisents, of course.

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Wisents are the European version of the American bison and are the heaviest land animal in Europe weighing up to one ton. They were hunted to extinction in the wild, however are starting to be reintroduced from captivity into several countries in Europe. The official European bison registry shows that there are currently about 4,500 European bison in captivity.

Prince Richard, a 78-year old logging magnate, has raised five cows and two calves in an enclosed portion of his property, but plans to release them this April. The goal of the project is to introduce a herd or two of 15 to 25 animals back into the wild. Project managers will monitor the wisents and control population numbers if needed.

However, the prince has received criticism for his efforts from his neighbors and local government who are skeptical of the wisent introduction to their community.

Clayton B. Marlow, professor of rangeland science and management at Montana State University, warns that keeping the German wisent herd moving will be crucial so that it does not destroy habitat or become a nuisance to the community. Members of the community are wary of the consequences the European bison may have on damaging their property and fear that the bison will move onto working farmland. The herd also has potential to transmit diseases to local cattle and vice versa.

However, the prince's estate manager, Johannes Roehl, says it is unlikely that the small herd will move beyond the enclosure that they currently live in. He adds that even if the animals do stray, there are many more acres of Prince Richard's estate to roam on.

A positive of the bison introduction will be a potential boom in the village's tourist industry as officials have put up signs encouraging tourists to visit the wisent herd on Prince Richard's property.

Besides wisents, Prince Richard has also brought other species back to the region including gray geese and ravens, herds of red and roe deer, and wild sheep and boar.

Read more about how Prince Richard plans to put bison back into the wild at NPR.

European bison image via Shutterstock.

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