The Bittersweet Story of the Lost Cow That Joined a Herd of Bison

Back in 20018, a domesticated cow spent the winter living with a herd of wild bison in the primeval Bialowieza Forest in Poland, surprising scientists. Here’s what happened to her.

Photo: Rafal Kowalczyk

The reddish brown cow was first spotted by ornithologist Adam Zbyry as it was roaming free with a herd of foraging bison across corn and rapeseed fields bordering the Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland.

Zybry made the news next November when he told TVN24: “It’s not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye. It was a completely different light-brown shade from the rest of the herd. Bison are chestnut or dark brown”.

Initially, he thought the animal was a result of genetic mutation, but at a second glance he realized it was Limousin cow – a French breed popular in Poland. The young animal appeared to be in good condition, and unthreatened by the bisons. Biologists assumed it would wander back to its pasture with the winter setting in. But that didn’t happen.

Photo: Rafal Kowalczyk

Rafal Kowalczyk, director of the Mammal Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, also managed to photograph the cow and the bisons. According to him, the cow’s good condition indicated that she was managing to find food, even though she was sometimes spotted on the margins of the herd. Her thick fur common to her Limousin breed and the mild winter in eastern Poland also helped her survival.

Kowalczyk described the situation as exceptional, saying it’s the first time he has witnessed a cow join a bison herd.

“She is not very integrated with the group, as bison act like one organism and she stands out.” That said, the herd had probably saved her from the wolves living the Bialowieza Forest and the surrounding countryside.

However, he was worried that the cow could pose a the threat to the bison themselves, in case they somehow managed to mate. The resulting hybrids would endanger the vulnerable population of about 600 Bialowieza bison which became extinct in the wild after World War I and, to be restored in the wild based on some captive survivors starting in in 1929.

“Another danger is that hybrid calves are large, and the cow could die giving birth,” Kowalczyk added.

Photo: Adam Zbyryt

Back then, Kowalczyk said that the cow would have to be removed from the herd by summer to prevent the risk of mating. He also added that it won’t be an easy operation.

“One question is whether when winter ends the cow will follow the bison into the forest, which is not the habitat that this cow knows,” Kowalczyk said. “The more time she spends in the herd, the riskier it will be.”, here

Well, that’s where the 2018 story ended. Earthly Mission has now contacted Rafal Kowalczyk to find out what happened to the cow since. Well, the ending is not happy. We learned that she finally had to be shot to save the genetic purity of the bisons. It was all done secretly to avoid public condemnation, but then, here is the truth for you.


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