April 30, 2024

Last Polish herd founder has died

She was one out of six in 2008, as one of the founders of the wisent herd of Kraansvlak. In 2007 the first three wisents came from Poland to the Netherlands. The next three arrived a year later, two cows with one calf. It all started with these six Polish wisents. Now, seventeen years later, the calf that at that time came along, has died and becomes part of the nutrient cycle.

Photograph: arrival Polish calf in 2008, photographer: Ruud Maaskant

“On March 13th I went into the field to look for her. We hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks and we had a feeling that she might have died. It is not unusual that we miss an animal on our round through Kraansvlak, but she wasn’t seen with the herd for weeks.” says ranger Simone. This is a reason for extra precaution. It is not normal that a herd animal stays away from the herd. For the wisent bulls this is most of the year normal behavior. They do their own thing and move around in bachelor groups, joining the herd sporadically throughout the year and during the mating season. It is also normal that a cow which is about to deliver a calf seeks a quiet place on her own to give birth. Other than that, it is important for wisents to stay in the herd to have the safety of the group and to find the right places to eat, drink and rest. The older females lead the way and teach the younger generations.

The last Polish cow was seventeen years old and gave birth to eight calves. One of those calves is still in Kraansvlak and is now one of the older wiser females. Three have died and four have been translocated to other nature areas and now live in Denmark and Spain, where they also roam under semi-free conditions (this means in a big nature area where they can show natural behavior, with minimum human intervention but within a fence) and take care of new offspring.

Photograph: the last Polish cow with one of her calves, photographer: Ruud Maaskant

“I found her at the foot of a dune. Actually, I walked straight into her when I went looking for her. I am glad she died by herself in her home area. Glad that we didn’t find her just before her end and had to make a difficult decision to end her suffering. She was probably already dead for a few weeks when I found her, so her herd mates have had time to say goodbye. Her carcass can stay where it was found and become an important source of nutrients for other animals.” Dead animals are often a missing link in the natural circle of live in many nature areas, although they are very important for a wide variety of animals, plants, bacteria and fungi. A dead animal fulfills the function of a busy restaurant where hundreds of other species come to diner! There is a camera trap nearby the carcass to see how the degeneration process evolves and to see which animals come to forage or just to pay a visit. “It’s always very interesting to follow this process. A fox visits the carcass usually more than once, sits on it and poops on its head! This is also something which we see on cow poop. The best spots to mark his territory.” tells ranger Simone. Although it is still interesting to see, it is also clear that the ecosystem is not complete. Not every spot is taken. In Kraansvlak for example we miss an animal able to open the carcass of a wisent, like the wolf. Therefore, rangers imitate this role. They cut open the animal allowing other scavengers as raven and buzzards to  take their part. You will also see mice gnawing at hooves and horns. Birds do come to pick insects or take a pluck of wisent hair to finish their nest. The circle of live and recycling in optima forma. In nature everything is reused.

Photograph: passed away in Kraansvlak, photographer: Simone de Maat