“If I’m not back by 2PM, a bison probably ate me”, I jokingly said to my friends. A bison safari in Amsterdam National Park had been on my to-do-list for a long time. I just couldn’t believe that these prehistoric animals walked around freely in the Dutch dunes, I had to see it for myself. Today I would.
Start bison safari in Amsterdam National Park
Too excited I arrived at the meeting point when the sun was just rising. An hour or so later, a group of 15 nature fans – me included- stood around the forest ranger. Now, different organisations take care of the Amsterdam National Park ‘s life & landscape. The park is 3800 ha, so there’s quite some area to divide. Each organisation offers different kinds of activities in the area they’re maintaining. The particular area where the bisons are at, is in hands of the drinking water company in Amsterdam area. In the past water was subtracted from this area, now that water is deep in the dunes, only to be used in rare occasions.
Our forest ranger knows exactly where the bisons stroll through the dunes. This is a true bison safari in Amsterdam National Park. We’re completely off the beaten track. The only track I can see is that of the bison…and many other wild animals.
A bit about the bison. It is not as huge as its family in the US. This is the European bison, also called wisent. The park’s leaflet reads that these wisenten most probably lived in the Netherlands as well in prehistoric times. Sadly enough they were extinct in wild for a long time, only to be found in zoos until an organisation in Poland started a project to ‘fok’ them and release them in the wild. As the population is growing, the wisenten can now be found in many European countries again.
The forest rangers keep a close eye on the group in the Amsterdam dune park. Last year 4 calves were born, 1 cow died. The cow was left in the park, for foxes, crows and other animals to eat. There were now more than 20 European bisons in this nature area. Too many. There has to be enough for them to eat. In dry summers like the one of 2018, a large group of wisenten doesn’t survive. Which is why a small group left for Spain. At times exchanges also happen, to keep the population diverse and healthy.
Hierarchy does change when these exchanges happen. Usually the oldest cow is the leader. The wisenten usually don’t stay together as a group, they wander off and find each other again. Only in dangerous situations they look for the leader cow.
Running and healthy diet in Holland
After quite an adventurous walk, we climb onto a dune and the wisenten look straight at us. “They don’t do any harm, it’s us who should take them into account a bit more”, the forest ranger tells us. Together with his team the ranger is testing how the European bisons react on certain activities of humans. Running in the eyes of wisenten, is seen as fleeing, running from something. This could provoke an aggressive reaction. But the bisons are generally quite harmless, as long as you keep distance, let them do their own thing, you’re fine. And, by the way, they don’t eat people! Like the Highlanders, deer and Konik horses they graze the land, to create more open areas with more plant diversity. They also peel the skin of a marple tree for the juice – Yep, amazing, no? I thought only Canandian maple trees gave syrup.
Rubbing against the pole of the wisenten walking trail
Wisent walking trail
I loved seeing these amazing creatures from atop of a hill. They were checking us out and after a while went back to grazing the land or taking a rest. What I found particularly funny was that at the moment the ranger told us that the path through the wisenten habitat would open again that Monday, the leader cow pushed against one of the route’s poles. What do you think she meant by that?
Want to go on safari as well? These two bike tours go through the Amsterdam National Park:
Of course, you can also contact me if you’d like to arrange a great group outing or team building activity in the near surroundings of Amsterdam. Boat, bike, by foot? Let me know!