Denmark's Bornholm island gets rare bison from Poland

European bison - file pic
Image caption Conservation projects have enabled European bison numbers to grow

Denmark's Baltic island of Bornholm has become a new home for the European bison, an endangered species that was almost wiped out in the last century.

Poland sent seven bison - one male and six females - to Bornholm by ferry last week. "They look very well," project manager Tommy Hansen told the BBC.

Denmark hopes the bison will help the island's biodiversity by conserving meadows, as they like to eat tree bark.

The bison numbers may grow and tourism may also benefit from their presence.

The two world wars in the 20th Century were devastating for Europe's bison, as they were hunted for meat in countries hit by widespread hunger.

The Danish Nature Agency project on Bornholm is funded by the Villum Foundation, at a cost of 4m kroner (£435,200; $678,000).

There are very few wild European bison herds - most of the mammals live in the Bialowieza forest, which straddles Belarus and Poland. The bison population there is estimated at about 800.

Bornholm's bull bison comes from Polish Silesia, while the females are from Bialowieza.

Diversifying the genetic make-up of the bison is important, Mr Hansen said, as the current gene pool of bison in Europe is very limited.

"We needed big mammals to increase the biodiversity on this island - the roe deer is the biggest mammal here," he explained.

"We want to keep grassland areas open - it's very important for butterflies and other creatures, and the bison can keep the forest back. They love to eat the bark of young trees."

The European bison (Bison bonasus) is Europe's heaviest land mammal - adults are generally 3m (10ft) long, 2m tall and weigh up to 900kg (1,984lb).

The Bornholm herd will soon move to a big enclosure of 200 hectares (494 acres) and the hope is that in about five years' time they will be released into the wild.

"We need to see how they deal with people walking around and in cars, and see if they do help the environment," Mr Hansen said.

The environment on Bornholm is similar to the bison habitat in Poland. The island has a big forest of about 9,000 hectares, with the same mix of deciduous trees and conifers, as well as meadows.

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