March 15, 2023

Our first mission is here: bringing back the European Bison

Few people alive today have been lucky enough to spot a European bison in the wild. They once roamed the European lowlands covering vast distances, but went completely extinct in the wild 100 years ago.

Now conservationists are working to bring these majestic creatures back. Creatures who have a much more important role to play in our ecosystems than most of us would imagine.

In our first mission we teamed up with wildlife pioneer ZTP in Poland to help restore Europe's population of “gentle giants''. To get the job done, we equipped them with the necessary technology and joined the team on an expedition in the middle of winter, deep into the woods of Pomeranian Switzerland, to the remote parts of western Poland. In the process we had the chance to get closer to these awe-inspiring animals than we ever thought possible.

Everything you need to know about the European bison

European bison grow taller than humans and weigh as much as a small car. Despite their mass, they could outrun me by a factor of three and jump up over my head with ease. While this might sound scary, you’ll be glad to hear that bison are very peaceful animals, living on a strictly vegan diet and posing no threat to humans or other animals. 

Bison walking through water

Unlike its close cousin the American bison, which prefers wide prairies, the European bison loves grazing in forests and areas of mixed vegetation; eating shrubs, twigs, and grass.  This feeding pattern makes them what’s known as “ecosystem engineers,” because they literally help rebuild ecosystems from the ground up.

Their foraging style creates a mosaic of open soil patches and vegetation clearings at different stages of growth. This allows a whole variety of new plant and animal species to explode onto the scene. The European bison can create space for flowering bushes inside forests, which attract insects, which in turn bring new species of birds to the area, then small mammals, and so on.

But sadly the history of Europe’s bison and human beings is one of misunderstanding and under appreciation. That’s what led to their complete extinction in the wild 100 years ago, following centuries of overhunting and habitat destruction through human settlement and farmland expansion.

Luckily early conservationists have been working since the late 1920s to slowly reintroduce captive bred bison back into the wild — but for many decades the process has been slow and restricted only to eastern Poland. That’s why in 2002, our partner Maciej and his team from ZTP began their large scale rewilding program to allow the bison’s population to increase its habitat all the way through western Poland — with amazing success: They’re now able to count over 400 animals in western Poland alone, spreading up to the Baltic Sea and all the way west towards the German border. But help is still needed.

Why Planet Wild got involved

Despite  all the good they do for our ecosystems and the incredible comeback that they have made, European bison are still under threat. Mainly - still - because of human-wildlife conflict around land use. This is because the presence of the bison can challenge existing farming methods, which have been used over hundreds of years. Luckily we can adapt: humans can learn to appreciate their gentle nature, and the ecosystem services that bison provide. Planet Wild's video storytelling, as much as this blog, is trying to aid that understanding. 

What’s more is that bison are also able to adapt. Maciej has developed a way to teach wild bison herds how to safely navigate the land in between human settlements so that conflict is avoided. To do this, ZTP is outfitting wild bison with specialized GPS collars. They can then track a herd's movement continuously. If the herd roams too close to a village, farm or field, the team head’s out to gently spook them away and guide them in a safer direction. Since bison value grazing in peace, they will naturally start to stay away from these places, avoiding conflict. As they’re such social animals, they will pass on that learned behavior from generation to generation.

Planet Wild with a European Bison

Maciej has demonstrated initial success with this method. If we can establish it further, it has the potential to make bison rewilding successful globally.

Our support

On our first mission, the Planet Wild community has provided ZTP with three bison GPS collars, as well as a thermal camera which is crucial in helping spot bison in the wild and approach them safely for GPS outfitting. This is specialized and expensive tech so Planet Wild has stepped up to foot the EUR 10,250 bill for ZTP. Why is it relevant? Three trackers are enough to outfit an entire bison herd, and the thermal camera can track the difference between a successful and unsuccessful day in the field, making sure ZTP can work efficiently with the limited resources that they have. 

Special equipment used to track bison

The ground work itself can be strenuous, but at the same time it provides a unique window into the life of an almost lost species of giant mammals that have shared the land with humans since prehistoric times. Seeing the hope that this work provides for our ancient friends, in my opinion, serves as the best possible reward for our community of backers. If you want to get a feeling of what it was like on the ground, watch our video to see for yourself. I promise it’ll be exciting!

The impact

In only one day we were able to successfully equip a herd of wild bison with GPS trackers, and make sure that over 60 large wild animals are properly shepherded in the future as they continue their expansion across the continent.

The thermal camera allows ZTP to work effectively with a small headcount and limited public funding (if any). Modern tech helps them to scale their impact for many years to come.

Hopefully by documenting this mission we can help raise awareness about the importance of keystone species for boosting biodiversity and to promote a more peaceful coexistence between humans and wildlife.

A personal note

Only 5 months ago, Planet Wild was just an idea. It’s so exciting to launch our first mission today — and see the impact that we’re already creating. I am incredibly proud of the team for what we have built in such a short time, and deeply thankful for our early backers who believed in our idea! Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

This is literally just the beginning. From now on, we’ll take you on a mission to restore the planet every single month. Next up: Deep Sea cleanup.

In just a few weeks we’ll launch our public membership. We’re just finishing up the wiring of our community app to make that possible. That means anyone will be able to join Planet Wild as a backer and become part of these missions. We vote together on what kind of missions we want to support, document every mission in detail on our Youtube channel. The bigger our community grows the bigger these missions will get.

I look forward to seeing you!

Markus Gilles

Co-Founder, Planet Wild

A bison wearing sunglasses

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