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Bison in Belarus' Vitebsk region: history and present-day life

These days Belarus can produce and present to foreigners real bison because their DNA samples are now stored in the refrigerator. So the big animal is not under the threat of disappearance anymore. Ilona Volynets has details.

Ilona Volynets, correspondent:
If a bison then in the Bialowieza Forest? Not anymore! We went to the north of Belarus in order to see here in the Vitebsk region the real forest heroes. Our video hunting starts right now!

Experienced wildlife photographer Andrei Shimchuk will help us not to get lost in the dense forests.

We immediately see female deer on a clearing. However, wind quickly delivers our whispers to the animals and they instantly disappear in the forest.

The Rossony and Verkhnedvinsk districts of Belarus are called perhaps the most environmentally friendly. They were not at all affected by Chernobyl. Meanwhile, our guide suddenly turns off the road.

In order not to frighten the mother with the baby, Andrei has some tricks in hand. However, the mother quickly figured out that we are humans. Having looked around, the beamy disappeared too. A moose is a good "finding" in the forest but the ultimate dream.

He was feared, admired and worshiped. A stuffed bison killed by Emperor Nicholas II in Bialowieza adorned the Russian Empire pavilion at a world exhibition. The exhibit back then received the highest awards.

Pavel Veligurov, researcher of Scientific and Practical Center for Bioresources, National Academy of Sciences:
From literature we know that there were years when the number of bison in the Bialowieza Forest reached 2,000.

Then this amazing species of large wild bulls disappeared altogether. And only zoos helped to restore it. Now there are more than 3,500 free living bison. And it is encouraging that half of them lives in Belarusian forests.

Ilona Volynets, correspondent:
Bison DNA samples are stored in special freezers at a temperature of -80ºC. They can be stored forever. So there is a probability that the species will no longer disappear.

Aleksandr Kozulin, head of the international cooperation department, Scientific and Practical Center for Bioresources of the National Academy of Sciences:
It is a globally threatened species. It is included in the World Red Book. 

This is not only is a natural phenomenon, but also an indisputable brand. It is he who greets guests at the exit from the national airport and "poses" for postcards and shop windows. It is thanks to bison that the Minsk Ice Hockey Worlds in 2014 are still in memory of thousands of hockey fans all over the world. And the world has the association: mascot - bison - Volat - Belarus!

Izubritsa is a small village in Vitebsk region. The name speaks for itself (zubr means bison in Russian). Archaeologists confirm that bison inhabited the area in the 16th century. And now, after a century, despite the skeptics saying that bison cannot take root in the north, it was decided to conduct an experiment. A herd of several dozen animals was brought here. For a year, they lived in a cage, and then the "forest heroes" were released.   

This unusual house is home to a man with an unusual profession, the so-called "zubrovod" (bison specialist). 

Alexander says that it was not a mistake to resettle bison in the Vitebsk region. The population increased by 30 percent in just one year.

Alexander Kashtalian, researcher of hunting farm "Red Forest":
Bison like to come to open space in frosty sunny weather. In this weather, they are much more likely to be found in fields.

We start our search at dawn.

Barely catching extraneous sounds, the most sensitive animals rushed for cover. All others followed suit but we managed to count at least thirty adult bison. But kids hesitated. We decided to approach the animals even closer.

We walked several kilometers and listened to every rustle and it even seemed we breathed in unison with the entire forest. We were almost desperate. But then the forest rendezvous did happen (watch the video).

To see the bison in the wild is really a rare chance. They seem to feel your presence and rush away. Proud, strong and... capricious. In them, there is a piece of something strange and elusive... 

Bison in Vitebsk region of Belarus