Thursday, 1 September 2011

Wisent - the symbol of Poland

Wisent, or European Bison, is one of the most popular symbol of Poland.  It is the heaviest surviving land animal in Europe.  A typical wisent is about 2.8 to 3 m (9 to 10 ft) long and 1.8 to 2 m (6 to 7 ft) tall, and weighs 300 to 920 kg (660 to 2,000 lb).  Dimension and weight of this admirable animal cause that it does not have any natural enemies. The main characteristic of the wisent is big disproportion between the front and rear part of the body. The animal has a massive, expanded chest and a narrow waist. Additionally, an impression of huge skein intensifies thick and long fur growing on this place. A head of wisent is big and heavy with horns rounded to the center, small eyes and a wide forehead.  Wisents live 30 to 35 years on average. There are only about 3400 individuals all over the world, from which about 1100 live in Poland. 
Wisents have been covered with complete species preservation because for centuries, these animals were continuously cut down by hunters and poachers. In the past, especially during the Middle Ages, they were commonly killed to produce hides and drinking horns. In order to protect the species in 1923 the International Society for the Protection of Bison was founded, nevertheless in 1996 the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the wisent as an endangered species.
The history of wisents is an excellent example of negative human impact on the nature. Human actions directly contributed to the extinction of wild wisent. On the other hand, it is worth to notice that also human activities have contributed to the repopulation of these animals. Extinct species was reconstructed through individuals coming from zoos and private breeding. The fact that nowadays we could admire bison and watch it in its natural environment, is without doubt the merit of Poland and Polish people. It is they who largely contributed to restoring populations of these animals.
Bisons in Poland live mainly in the area of Białowieża Forest which is part of Białowieski National Park. BNP  is the oldest national park in Poland and one of the oldest in the Europe. It was founded as 'Reserve' forestry in 1921 but officially established as a National Park in Białowieża in 1932. In 1979, Białowieża Forest was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It annually attracts nearly 140 000 tourists. The bison farm is one the most interesting attractions there.
Popularity of Polish wisents is so large that even famous vodka “Żubrówka” (which is also known in English as Bison Grass Vodka) was introduced. It has been manufactured since the 16th century. The name of it comes from żubr – the Polish word for the wisent. Its flavor is unique and is described as having woodruff, vanilla, coconut, and almond notes and also a blade of buffalo grass which grows in the Białowieża Forest is placed in each bottle of Żubrówka.

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