Rebel Polish cow joins a herd of wild bison


If you happen to be in Poland’s sprawling Bialowieza Forest, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of its most storied residents: a herd of wild bison.

And you might even spot a strange, new addition to that herd. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This isn’t forest magic.

That’s a cow.

And how did a farm animal end up joining a herd of fiercely independent — and very much endangered — beasts?

According to Poland’s TVN24 news portal, the cow escaped from her pen at a nearby farm last fall. Back in November, the fugitive farm animal was spotted again, keeping the unlikeliest of company.

“It’s not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye,” Adam Zbyryt, the bird expert who spotted the cow told TVN24 back then. “It was a completely different light-brown shade from the rest of the herd. Bison are chestnut or dark brown.”

The cow fit the description of one that had gone missing from the farm: a reddish-grown Limousin cow.

Then winter set in — and most assumed the cow, who wasn’t naturally built for the elements like her hardy friends, would perish.

But earlier this week, Rafal Kowalczyk, director of the Mammal Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, came upon an astonishing sight: the very same cow, still healthy and seemingly well-fed, and still making time with his wild friends.

Somehow, the runaway cow had managed to thrive over the winter, even as the bison herd hadn’t fully welcomed her into the fold.

Indeed, the images show a cow just at the fringe of the herd. Let’s call her a persistent cow, who may owe her life to the bison.

“She is not very integrated with the group, as bison act like one organism and she stands out,” Kowalczyk told the Polish news station. But wolves, he added, were likely discouraged from attacking her thanks to the daunting company she kept.

But the cow still faces an uncertain future, mostly because her very presence puts an already minuscule bison herd in danger. There are just 600 of these behemoths left in Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO heritage site spanning some 350,000 acres between Poland and Belarus. For the bison, the primeval forest is their last stronghold in Europe, having been hunted to near-extinction over the last century.

If, as Kowalczyk points out, the bison do accept this insistent cow into their herd, it could lead to mating, which could contaminate the herd with hybrids.

Then there’s the real possibility of the cow dying a particularly painful death during childbirth, as a baby bison may be too much for her bovine birth canal.

It’s hard to blame the cow.

Who wouldn’t peer over the fence at these magnificent animals and not dream of running with them? Besides, by several accounts, she was earmarked for slaughter.

But it does leave a lingering question: What to do with this little dreamer?

Likely, she will have to return to the farm. Or, even better, a sanctuary might step in, thanks to the soaring popularity if this “rebel” cow.

But before then, this cow leaves us all with a little bovine inspiration: There’s no dream too big, too far — or even too weird.

6 interesting facts about bison

The bison is an iconic animal of the American plains — so iconic that it has been named the first national mammal. Yet most of us know little about this symbolic creature. Here are a few basic facts that might surprise you:

1. Bison may look like lumbering lumps but they’re quite fast and agile. They can run an impressive 35 miles per hour and jump as high as 6 vertical feet! Because tourists underestimate the speed and overestimate the docility of bison, these animals have been responsible for injuring more people in Yellowstone than any other species in the park, according to the National Park Service.

2. A bison’s coat is so thick and insulating that snow can cover it without melting.

3. Bison played a huge role in the plains ecosystem. They grazed native grasses, and in doing so their hooves turned up the soil and their droppings fertilized it. Prairie dogs preferred to live in areas grazed by bison so they could keep a better watch out for predators over the shorter grasses. Meanwhile, bison was a major food source for both humans and wolves, and their carcasses were feasts for scavenger species. Without bison, the plains would never have been the fertile, unique ecosystem it was before farming arrived.

4. European settlers really did a number on the bison and managed to whittle down their numbers until only a few hundred survived. There’s only one location in the entire continent where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times, and that’s Yellowstone National Park.

5. Only around 500,000 bison exist today, a fraction of the some 30 million that once roamed the plains before Europeans arrived. Defenders of Wildife says that “today they are ‘ecologically extinct’ as a wild species throughout most of their historic range, except for a few national parks and other small wildlife areas.” The vast majority are raised by ranchers for their meat and hides. Only around 30,000 bison graze on parks and public lands and only around 15,000 of them are considered wild, roaming free and unfenced. But in a sign of progress, Parks Canada is bringing plains bison back to Banff National Park, where they roamed more than 100 years ago, according to the Calgary Sun. A small group of 16 bison will initially roam in an enclosed pasture, but the goal is for the new group to eventually roam in a much larger space and interact with native species. The video above gives a look at the process transporting the bison to Banff.

6. The bison’s genetic make-up has changed over time. Most bison today aren’t exactly pure bison. According to PBS, Texas A&M professor of veterinary pathobiology Dr. James Derr “has spent the past several decades analyzing bison DNA to determine which herds contain cattle genes, and believes that only about 1.6 percent of today’s bison population (8,000 animals) is not hybridized.”

So though the notion of vast herds of wild bison roaming free across the plains is something for the history books, humans can keep pushing to bring them back.

First bison calf born in Banff National Park in 140 years

Banff National Park marked Earth Day in the best way possible this year. A herd of wild bison that were recently reintroduced to the park in February welcomed the arrival of a new calf. The newborn represents the first bison calf born in the park’s backcountry in 140 years.

The first calf was born on Earth Day, April 22, and two more calves have been born since then.

According to CBC Radio Canada:

Officials also hope that the calving bison will help tether the plains animals to the area. “It’s a huge step in this process,” said [Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager with Parks Canada].

“We know … that where a young female drops her calf it really ties her to that space, even if she was born somewhere else.”

While many remember what Parks Canada calls a “display herd” of bison housed in a paddock near the Banff townsite until 1997, this new herd represents a return to wild animals.

This is the first calving season the bison have been in the park. The release is part of a five-year pilot program to see how the herd affects the park’s ecosystem. Next summer during the second calving season, the bison will be allowed to roam through the eastern part of the park and eventually — we hope — throughout the entire park as the herd integrates with the native plants and wildlife.

Where the bison roam: Herd treads again on tribal land

The men stood by the edge of the corral to mark the release of the first buffalo to run on the Wind River Indian Reservation in decades.

The sound of their drums mixed with their voices lifted in song and the 10 buffalo shifted nervously before finally they bolted and ran out onto the grassy plain.

The buffalos’ first free steps on the reservation on Thursday marked a homecoming that’s been decades in the making for members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

Leslie Shakespeare, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, the tribe’s governing body, watched the buffalo move through the tall, parched yellow grass. “It’s very surreal, just seeing them released and seeing them run across the field here,” he said. “Seeing everybody’s emotions — a lot of people are real emotional.”

It’s been more than a century since buffalo wandered here, tribal members say. The federal government oversaw the extermination of enormous herds of buffalo in the late 1800s.

Jason Baldes, coordinator of the buffalo restoration effort for the Eastern Shoshone, said in a recent interview that the federal government encouraged the wanton slaughter of the buffalo after the cavalry’s defeat in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

“So what happened to the buffalo similarly happened to native people,” Baldes said. “And then we are now on isolated pockets of our former territories. Indians were relegated to reservations, and buffalo you know essentially are in isolated, small populations in their former territories and essentially are not even considered a wildlife species. Only in places like national parks are they valued for their role ecologically.”

The 10 buffalo released Thursday are from a genetically pure strain the federal government maintains on a refuge in Iowa. The National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have worked with the Eastern Shoshone on the restoration project.

Collin O’Mara, president of the Wildlife Federation, addressed the crowd at Thursdays’ release. He said an estimated 60 million buffalo roamed the West in the early 1800s only to drop to fewer than 100 at the turn of the last century.

“Partially it was for food, partially it was for meat but mainly it was for control of the land, to force tribes like the Shoshone to abandon their large ranges and be pushed onto reservations,” O’Mara said. “It is an injustice that for far too long has gone insufficiently acknowledged. I think what’s exciting today is that there’s a rebirth, a beginning.”

Matt Hogan, assistant regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said there have been times through the years when the federal government has stood on the wrong side of the buffalo issue. “And it’s truly humbling but oh so proud to now stand on the right side of this issue and help restore bison to this landscape,” he said.

The Eastern Shoshone share the Wind River Indian Reservation with the Northern Arapaho Tribe. The two have separate governments, but own the reservation lands jointly.

Ronald Oldman, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Council, said his tribe had considered restoring buffalo to reservation lands a few years ago but decided against it.

“I’m happy for the Shoshones to get their bison back here,” Oldman said in an interview this week. Asked whether his tribe plans to pursue the release of buffalo, he said, “It’s up to the people.”

Baldes said he hopes to see the buffalo released on Thursday ultimately lead to a herd of at least 1,000 animals. He said establishing such a herd on the reservation will allow children there to experience how their ancestors traditionally used the animals and share in understanding their spiritual importance.

“If we as human beings — human beings meaning Shoshone or Arapaho or non-native or the cattle industry — if we as human beings can get over our differences and see the importance of managing these creatures on a large landscape, then we can do it,” Baldes said.

As we celebrate Teddy Roosevelt’s birthday this week, we remember him as one of the first great conservationists – the president who saved the American Bison

By Keith Aune

As the United States turned 100 on July 4, 1876, Theodore Roosevelt was nearing a milestone birthday of his own. Only a few months shy of 18, he’d seen his nation fulfill its original promise, maturing into a more functional form of democratic governance, perhaps most plainly—and painfully—reflected in the civil war that redefined the principles of freedom.

As the nation tried to recover from the scars of its bloody conflict, across the continent the forces of territorial expansion had also taken their own toll on all things indigenous to the nation, from native peoples to the land and wildlife they depended upon.

At the time of Theodore Roosevelt’s birth on October 27, 1858, the population density of people and bison of the United States averaged roughly 10 and 17 per square mile, respectively. Only 42 years later,, upon Roosevelt’s election as vice president in 1900, there were about 25 people per square mile and bison were nearly extinct.

The decimation of this great mammal—the continent’s largest—from some 40 million to barely a thousand animals is tragedy on a staggering scale motivated by unrestrained resource exploitation for commercial purposes and misguided U.S. Indian policy

Theodore was a 7th generation Roosevelt of wealth and privilege, and enjoyed a resource rich environment that enabled him to explore nature from a more romantic viewpoint than most people living at that time. Perhaps as a consequence, he developed a significant fascination with American Bison. This fascination increased as he grew older, gained power, and enthusiastically pursued his interests as a hunter-conservationist and naturalist.

The American Bison, or buffalo as it was commonly known, symbolized the wild nature and western culture Roosevelt had come to love in his travels as a young man. He hunted and killed his first bison in 1883 at the age of 24 in Montana at Little Cannonball Creek. After the kill he danced enthusiastically around that buffalo to celebrate his success.

By the time of his second bison hunt in 1889, Roosevelt had become more restrained in his enthusiasm. In his journal, he recorded that in watching these massive animals, he experienced a “half-melancholy feeling,” noting that “Few indeed are the men who now have or evermore shall have, the chance of seeing the mightiest of American beasts, in all his wild vigor, surrounded by the tremendous desolation of his far-off mountain home.”

When the American Bison Society (ABS) formed in New York in 1905 at New York’s Bronx Zoo, Roosevelt was named honorary president. He had come to know the society’s first president, William Hornaday, through their membership in the Boone and Crockett hunting club, several of whose members were the key players behind the creation of the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS), which operated the Bronx Zoo.

Theodore Roosevelt routinely used his position as U.S. President to help prioritize conservation generally and to protect bison in particular. He even mentioned the concern for bison in his annual message to Congress on December 5, 1905 during his second term as U.S. president.

Beginning in 1907, the Bronx Zoo and ABS began shipping bison out west in an effort to repopulate the American plains from which the bison had been decimated. President Roosevelt supported the first three reintroductions: at the Wichita Mountains Reserve, Wind Cave National Park, and the National Bison Range.

These efforts reflected Roosevelt’s passionate determination to protect wild lands in the American west, an accomplishment he would later trumpet in his autobiography. There he writes that the many acts to preserve bison were key highlights in his tenure as President. Today, in large part due to Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy, there are approximately 30,000 wild bison living on Federal, Tribal, State and Private lands—as their millions of wild ancestors did in our nation’s early history.

It is in recognition of the bison’s central place in the nation’s natural history, native culture, and ecology that the 114th U.S. Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, adopting the American bison as the United States national mammal. The first Saturday of November—only days from Roosevelt’s birthday—is likewise recognized as National Bison Day.

As we celebrate Teddy Roosevelt’s birthday, we pay homage to his legacy as a protector of wild places and a founder of the modern conservation movement. One thing we know for sure. Given his youthful love of nature, commitment to ethical hunting, and legacy of conservation action, it is fair to credit Theodore Roosevelt as the President who saved the American bison.

Native Americans attempting to stop a pipeline from being built on their land and water just got assistance from a large herd of wild bison.

Indigenous culture honors American bison (known as Tatanka Oyate, or Buffalo Nation) as a symbol of sacrifice, as the bison give their lives to provide food, shelter, and clothing through the use of their meat and their hides. Native Americans maintain a spiritual tradition with bison, believing that as long as buffalo — a gift from the Great Spirit — roam free and as long as the herds are bountiful, the sovereignty of indigenous people would remain strong.

And in the midst of mass arrests, mace attacks, and beatings from batons, a stampede of bison suddenly appeared near the Standing Rock protest camp. A cry of joy reportedly erupted from the Standing Rock Sioux, as they had been praying for assistance from the Tatanka Oyate during their standoff with riot police and national guardsmen.

As the police response to the Sioux’s ongoing nonviolent civil disobedience escalates, tribal leaders are calling on state and federal governments to respect the constitutional rights of water protectors and stop the mistreatment of the indigenous community.

“We call on the state of North Dakota to oversee the actions of local law enforcement to, first and foremost, ensure everyone’s safety. The Department of Justice must send overseers immediately to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of thousands here at Standing Rock,” wrote David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “DOJ can no longer ignore our requests.”

Thousands of Wild Buffalo Appear Out of Nowhere at Standing Rock (VIDEO)

Antelope Island’s famous bison roundup is underway

by Jaymi Heimbuch

The annual bison round-up is underway in Antelope Island State Park in Utah.

Each year, the bison herd grows by about 100-150 individuals as new calves are born in the spring, but the park has limited resources for grazing. Park biologists aim to keep the herd numbering around 550 individuals to keep resources balanced. The solution is an annual roundup that not only functions to thin the herd but also ensure the individuals released back into the park are as healthy as possible.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune:

[H]orse riders round up and push the bison into small herds. The bison are then driven into a holding corral where they rest for five days in an effort to reduce their stress levels.Then, on October 27, bison are sorted and separated one at a time to receive vaccinations and health screening. They also receive a small external computer chip to store health information.Some are released back into the island and a few are later sold in a public auction.

The annual event draws crowds. The visitors can watch the bison brought into corrals by riders on horseback, learn about the health screenings the bison undergo — including a blood draw to test for diseases and inoculations — and of course enjoy music and food.

As for the bison that are auctioned, Desert News notes, “The bison sell for up to $3,000, depending on their size and the bidding of the day, said park curator Clay Shelley. Any revenues are put back into the Wildlife and Habitat Management Plan, which manages the herd and provides for protection, preservation and conservation efforts on the island, as well as development demands to provide quality visitor experiences.”

Ice age bison DNA shows evidence of new route of human migration through the Rocky Mountains

A 13,000-year-old bison fossil has shown the most likely migration route of some of the first native Americans.

DNA from the bison remains has narrowed down when an ice-free corridor opened up along the Rocky Mountains during the late Pleistocene.

That corridor was a vital route for migrations between what is now Alaska and Yukon in the far north and the rest of the North American continent.

Researchers had previously suspected this was the way migrating humans and animals must have travelled, but were unclear about how and when it was used.

But now, a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the route was fully open by about 13,000 years ago.

While this route was closed when the very first humans moved south of the ice sheets into North America around 15,000 years ago (they probably took a Pacific coastal route), it is thought it later became a well-travelled thoroughfare in both directions.

“The opening of the corridor provided new opportunities for migration and the exchange of ideas between people living north and south of the ice sheets,” said Peter Heintzman, of UC Santa Cruz, who led the DNA analysis.

His coauthor Beth Shapiro, also from UC Santa Cruz, has previously shown that bison populations north and south of the ice sheets were genetically distinct by the time the corridor opened.

So, armed with that knowledge, the researchers have been able track the movement of northern bison southward, and southern bison northward.

“The radiocarbon dates told us how old the fossils were, but the key thing was the genetic analysis, because that told us when bison from the northern and southern populations were able to meet within the corridor,” Heintzman said.

Obama Signs Legislation Designating Bison National Mammal

The bison has become the official national mammal of the United States under legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on Monday.

Lawmakers spearheading the effort say the once nearly extinct icon deserves the elevated stature because of its economic and cultural significance in the nation’s history.

Millions of bison once roamed the Great Plains. About 500,000 now live in the U.S. but most of those have been cross-bred with cattle, and are semi-domesticated. About 30,000 wild bison roam the country, with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park.

Supporters of the legislation say they believe the recognition will elevate the stature of the bison to that of the bald eagle, long the national emblem, and bring greater attention to ongoing recovery efforts of the species.

“I hope that in my lifetime, thanks to a broad coalition of ranchers, wildlife advocates and tribal nations, we will see bison return to the prominent place they once occupied in our nation’s shortgrass prairies,” said Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who worked with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota to pass the Senate version of the legislation.

Scientists Sequence Genome of Eurasian Wild Aurochs, an Extinct Species of Ox that Gave Rise to Modern Bison

A multinational team of researchers has sequenced the nuclear genome of the aurochs (Bos primigenius), an extinct species of ox that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa.

“This is the first complete nuclear genome sequence from the extinct Eurasian aurochs,” said Dr David MacHugh of University College Dublin, Ireland, corresponding author of a paper published online in the journal Genome Biology.

Domestication of the now-extinct wild aurochs gave rise to the two major domestic extant cattle species – Bos taurus and B. indicus.

While previous genetic studies have shed some light on the evolutionary relationships between European aurochs and modern cattle, important questions remain unanswered, including the phylogenetic status of aurochs, whether gene flow from aurochs into early domestic populations occurred, and which genomic regions were subject to selection processes during and after domestication.

To build a clearer picture of the ancestry of European cattle breeds, Dr MacHugh and his colleagues from the United States, the UK, China and Ireland, extracted genetic material from a bone of a 6,750 year old wild aurochs discovered in a cave in Derbyshire, England.

The scientists then sequenced its complete genome and compared it with the genomes of 81 domesticated Bos taurus and B. indicus animals, and DNA marker information from more than 1,200 modern cows.

They discovered clear evidence of breeding between wild British aurochs and early domesticated cattle.

“Our results show the ancestors of modern British and Irish breeds share more genetic similarities with this ancient specimen than other European cattle,” Dr MacHugh said.

“This suggests that early British farmers may have restocked their domesticated herds with wild aurochs.”

“Genes linked to neurobiology and muscle development were also found to be associated with domestication of the ancestors of European cattle, indicating that a key part of the domestication process was the selection of cattle based on behavioral and meat traits.”

The study contradicts earlier simple models of cattle domestication and evolution that researchers proposed based on mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosomes.

“What now emerges from high-resolution studies of the nuclear genome is a more nuanced picture of crossbreeding and gene flow between domestic cattle and wild aurochs as early European farmers moved into new habitats such as Britain during the Neolithic,” Dr MacHugh concluded.


Stephen D.E. Park et al. 2015. Genome sequencing of the extinct Eurasian wild aurochs, Bos primigenius, illuminates the phylogeography and evolution of cattle. Genome Biology 16: 234; doi: 10.1186/s13059-015-0790-2