A domestic cow who escaped from a Polish farm last autumn survived the winter by horning in, so to speak, with a herd of wild European Bison.
The herd roams the less-wooded parts of the Bialowieza Forest, one of the largest and last remaining patches of the primeval forest that once covered most of northeastern Europe. According to Poland's TVN24 news portal, the cow joined the herd of about 50 bison after running away from a farm near the forest's edge near Poland's border with Belarus.
Though cows and bison are superficially similar, the runaway bovine stuck out like a sore thumb among its bison bros. Ornithologist Adam Zbyryt first reported on the wannabe wisent in November of 2017. “It's not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye,” stated Zbyryt to TVN24. “It was a completely different light brown shade from the rest of the herd. Bison are chestnut or dark brown.”
Natural mutations resulting in altered coat colors and patterns are not unknown among European Bison, but upon closer examination through binoculars Zbyryt realized the interloper was a Limousin cow. This breed originated in France but is popular in Poland. Though small in size due to its youth, the cow seemed to be in good health and appeared to be accepted by the herd of larger bison.
Cows have joined wild bison herds before but the visits have always been temporary. Naturalists assumed the cow would wander back to its pasture once the chilly and snowy Polish winter set in. Not this time! Biologist Rafal Kowalczyk noticed the cow again earlier this week, apparently healthy and keeping pace with the herd.
It's not a match made in ruminant heaven, however. “She is not very integrated with the group,” explained Dr Kowalczyk, “as bison act like one organism and she stands out.” Even so, tagging along with the buffalo hive mind may have saved the cow from being preyed upon by wolves – also reintroduced denizens of the Bialowieza Forest.
Though the cow may have beaten the odds so far, she may not be out of the woods (pun intended) yet. About 600 European Bison live in the Bialowieza Forest and naturalists monitoring the creatures want to avoid any possibility of hybrid animals “contaminating” this unique population. “Another danger is that hybrid calves are large, and the cow could die giving birth,” stated Dr Kowalczyk to TVN24. Sorry, bossy, but your winter whirlwind romance with the Big Boys looks to be ending soon courtesy of a lasso tossed by Polish cowboys. (via BBC)