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The Next Buffalo Commons: In Germany?

For the first time since 1746, a herd of wild European bison, close cousins of the American variety, will be roaming free in a German forest owned by Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg:

Since he hit upon the idea almost a decade ago, Prince Richard has been at the center of Germany’s most interesting experiment in species conservation. Now the project, which receives about €1.5 million ($2 million) in government subsidies, is about to enter its critical phase.

The state Environment Ministry in Düsseldorf issued its approval shortly before Christmas, and over the next few days several men will drive into the forest and remove the fence around an acclimation enclosure in place since 2010. When that happens, a herd of eight European bison, or wisent, will be free to roam in the woods. It consists of an enormous bull, five cows and two calves.

The last wild European bison was killed in 1927 in the Caucasus, but the few specimens that lived on in zoos now have 3,000 descendants. Some local Germans are worried about the dangers the bison could pose to hikers and the environment, while others think this animal, “straight out of a Western film,” will bring “something with charisma” to the Bad Berleburg, the town near the forest.

At Via Meadia we are fans of the great outdoors, though we don’t want the buffalo roaming too close to our stately manor in Queens. We suspect that some of the citizens of Bad Berleburg share our reservations about giant wild animals wandering in the neighborhood, but we wish the Prince and his bison well. Germany has been in love with the American wild west ever since Karl May’s series of adventure novels captivated the reading public more than a century ago; German kids will enjoy having some buffalo of their own, and in any case, restoring and preserving the beauty of nature is part of what it means to be human.

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