Number of wisents in the Czech Republic passes one hundred for the first time since the Middle Ages

2018 - 03 - 13
Number of wisents in the Czech Republic passes one hundred for the first time since the Middle Ages

The number of endangered European bisons (wisents) in Czech herds continues to grow. Last year their number passed the symbolic level of one hundred individuals for the first time in modern history. “Altogether one hundred and six wisents lived in Czech herds up to the last day of 2017,” specified Dalibor Dostal, the Director of European Wildlife conservation organisation, the local organisation of which Czech Landscape is a regional office of the international organisation European Bison Conservation Center (EBCC) in the Czech Republic.

“It has been, almost certainly, the most wisents in the area of today´s Czech Republic since their extermination in the Middle Ages,” added Miloslav Jirku of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences. A comparison with the situation at the beginning of the 90s shows how significantly wisent numbers in the Czech Republic have grown. “While in 1992 there were 14 wisents in total in all Czech herds, in 2017 17 appeared just in a reserve in the former military area of Milovice, for example,” compares Dalibor Dostal. The Milovice herd is, at the same time, the first semi-wild herd which has come into being in the Czech Republic.

The biggest wisent herd occurs in Zidlov game reserve, where they are bred by Military forests and Farms of the Czech Republic (MFF). “In Poland, state forests play a key part in wisent protection; it is therefore also very good that in the Czech Republic the state forest enterprise participates in wisent breeding,” Dalibor Dostal said in appreciation of the role of MFF. The herd in Zidlov should, on the basis of the International Stud Book coordinators recommendation, change over to a semi-wild regime as well.

The key is that a majority of wisents in the Czech Republic, specifically 82 individuals, belong to a rarer, so-called lowland genetic line. From a less rare, lowland-Caucasian line, there are 24 wisents. When the number of individuals in the lowland line passes one hundred, it will be important. “Just a one-hundred head population is, in fact, considered to be genetically self-sufficient,” pointed out Miloslav Jirku.

The oldest wisents in the Czech Republic live in zoological gardens, which have played a key role in wisent protection for decades. “In Prague Zoo and Plzen Zoo there are our oldest wisents, which will be 23 and 22 years old this year. They are both females. For wisent females in the wild, 24 years of age is a record, while in captivity it is 28 years of age; for males in the wild it is only 16 years of age, in captivity 23 years of age,” compared Miloslav Jirku.

In the Czech Republic, ten wisent breedings were operating up to 2017, five of which were zoological gardens. One private breeding went out of existence during 2017, so that in 2018 there are nine breeding programmes in the Czech Republic.

The worldwide total number of wisent for 2017 is still not known. In 2016 the worldwide population numbered 6,573 wisents. 1,706 of which lived in captivity, 395 in semi-wild herds, and 4,472 in the wild. To save this species however, it is necessary to reach the number of at least 10,000 individuals.

Wisents in the wild were totally exterminated by man after the First World War. Just a few individuals survived, bred in captivity. From them, a group of 12 wisents was put together which made the basis of the present population. Of the rarer, lowland line there are just seven individuals; however, only five of them have left descendants. In the stud book of European bison (wisent), just purebred wisents originated from the mentioned twelve founders are registered.

Photo: Vojtech Lukas

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