Officials welcome first wild bison in 10000 years after major restoration initiative: 'It's a learning process for us too'

Rewilding Europe, a non-profit conservationist group, has introduced eight European bison to the Herdade do Vale Feitoso Estate in eastern Portugal. These bison were translocated from reserves across Poland by the Polish State Forest, European Friends Society, and the European Bison Conservation Center. The aim is to prevent wildfires and the spread of invasive species while promoting biodiversity in the 7,600-hectare area.

European bison are large grazers that consume flammable vegetation, creating natural firebreaks and clearing forested areas. This helps reduce the risk of wildfires, especially in light of the extreme temperatures that have caused devastating wildfires in Portugal. The bison also support Portugal’s diverse landscape through their grazing, foraging, trampling, and fertilizing, promoting biodiversity and even enhancing carbon sequestration.

The European bison are the first of their kind to live in the Iberian Peninsula since the steppe bison roamed the region during the last ice age. Research suggests that European bison can acclimate to the hot and dry conditions of the Mediterranean, as seen in bison introduced to southern Spain.

The rewilding project is beneficial for both the bison and Portugal. The European bison population has seen a significant increase from 2,500 to 9,000 over the last decade, in part due to Rewilding Europe’s efforts in various European countries. Once the bison have adjusted to their new habitat, ecotourism will be another positive dimension, allowing tourists to view these majestic creatures.

Pedro Prata, the team leader of Rewilding Portugal, stated that this translocation is a pilot project. The bison will be closely monitored to see how they acclimatize to the local landscape and climate. This is the first time Rewilding Portugal has managed bison, making it a learning process for the team.

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