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4. Bialowieza Forest (1979)
 

This UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve lies in south-western Belarus and near the town of Białowieża in the Podlachian Voivodeship (62 km south-east of Białystok and 190 km north-east of Warsaw) in Poland. On the Polish side it is partly protected as Białowieski Park Narodowy, or Białowieża National Park, and occupies over 100 km². On the Belarusian side the Biosphere Reserve occupies 1,771 km²;  

 

Białowieski Park Narodowy protects the last fragment of virgin Europe lowland forest and it preserves to a remarkable extent its unique richness of flora and fauna. It is located in deciduous and mixed deciduous forest zone. These are the priceless natural forests of the diverse spatial structure, which has escaped the destructive impact of human's activity. Among the variety of animals that can be found in the Strict Protected Area and that one worth noting in particular is the European Bison - the largest European mammal, which has been reintroduced into the park. Thus, this unique remnant of the primeval forests that previously densely covered the European lowlands is now the unquestionable symbol of not only Białowieża National but also the entire Białowieża Forest.

 

Polish part

On the Polish side, in the Białowieża National Park, one finds the Białowieska Glade, originally built for the tsars of Russia - the last private owners of the forest (from 1888 to 1917) when the whole forest was within the Russian Empire. The Glade is equipped with a hotel, restaurant and parking areas. Guided tours into the strictly controlled areas of the park can be arranged by horse-drawn carriage. Approximately 100,000 tourists visit the Polish part of the forest annually. The village of Białowieża lies on the edge of the forest.

 

The wisent or European bison (Bison bonasus), is a bison species and the heaviest surviving land animal in Europe. A typical wisent is about 2.9 - 3.0 m (9.5 ft) long and 1.8–2.2 m (5.9–7.4 ft) tall, and weighs 300–920 kg (660–2000 lb). It is typically smaller than the related American bison (Bison bison), and has shorter hair on the neck, head, and forequarters, but longer tail and horns. In the east, wisent were legally the property of the Polish kings, Lithuanian grand dukes and Russian Tsars. King Sigismund I of Poland instituted the death penalty for poaching a wisent in the mid-16th century. Despite these measures, and others, the wisent population continued to decline over the following four centuries. The last wild wisent in Poland was killed in 1919 and the last wild wisent in the world was killed by poachers in 1927 in the Western Caucasus. By that year fewer than 50 remained, all in zoos.

 

Wisent were reintroduced successfully into the wild, beginning in 1951. They are found living free-ranging in forest preserves like Western Caucasus in Russia and Białowieża Forest in Poland and Belarus. Unfortunately, this forest is divided by a security fence separating Belarus from Poland (forming now part of the eastern border of the European Union, after Poland joined it in 2004; this border is strictly guarded to prevent illegal immigration). The wisent on either side of this barrier are genetically isolated from each other.





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