This is an extract of the article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book View America: North West - Part 1
In the travel series View America, North West - Part 1 covers Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.
My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 90 full-sized photos.
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Around 200,000 years ago the Eurasian bison spread from Asia to Europe and the Americas, an animal about half again as large as the buffalo we know today.
Around 1800 there were an estimated sixty to eighty million bisons in the prairies. Seventy-five years later, their numbers had been decimated to almost less than one million. By 1900, there were only some 500 buffalo left!
In the north the Sioux attempted to protect the buffalo herds from the white man. However, after the battle of Little Big Horn the federal army killed all of their horses, which meant the end of their control over their territory. It also meant that the last buffalo herds could easily be exterminated by the army, which is what happened.
At present there are an estimated 350,000 bisons in the United States and Canada, most of which are bred for meat. About 15,000 buffalo still roam free in nature parks and animal parks.
The European bison or Wisent is the largest surviving wild land animal in Europe. An average wisent is up to 10 feet (3.5 m) long, not counting a tail of 12 to 24 in (30 to 60 cm), and 5 to 7 feet (1.6 to 2 m) tall. An adult male weighs on average 1,400 lb (634 kg) and a female 935 lb (424 kg), but a big bull can weigh up to 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) or more.
In 1927 the last wild wisent was killed in the Western Caucasus, where a few hardy individuals had somehow managed to survive. By then only about 50 wisents remained alive, all of which lived in various zoos.
Heinz Heck, the director of the Munich Zoo, organized a groundbreaking breeding program to resurrect the wisent. Thanks to his efforts captured populations of wisents started to grow again and the animals were reintroduced in the wild into Bialowieza in 1951. The reintroduced wisents burgeoned and the forest is now home to more than 800 European bison.
Today free-ranging herds can be found in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, and in forest preserves in the Western Caucasus. Herds have also been introduced in Moldova (2005), Spain (2010), Denmark (2012) and in Germany (2013). The Netherlands hope to reintroduce the animal in the near future.