Wisent World Bad Berleburg , © Tourismus NRW e.V.

Wis­ent-Wild­ness Wit­tgen­stein

A truly unique sight: European bison are again free to roam the forests of the Rothaarsteig

Since 2013, a nature project like no other in Western Europe has been underway in the Wittgenstein region. Here, European bison are once again free to roam on the Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail). The animals, also known as the wisent, were native to our forests up until the early Middle Ages, when they were driven out by humans. But now, thanks to human intervention, these powerfully-built members of the cattle family are establishing themselves in the wild once again.

After 10 years of preliminary work and planning, an eight-strong herd was released into the forests of Wittgenstein in April 2013. The animals will be allowed to roam here freely, graze in the forests and increase their herd size, up to a limit of 20 to 25 animals. There has already been some success on this front, with a number of new arrivals in recent years. At the Wisent-Welt reserve, hikers on the forest trails of Wittgenstein have the only opportunity in Europe to see a bison herd living in the wild. The peaceful animals are thankfully not too perturbed when they have a chance encounter with humans, as long as the visitors approach them with care and maintain a respectful distance.

Encounters between man and bison at Wisent-Wildnis

Mindful that not all visitors are willing or able to hike for several hours for a glimpse of the bison, Wisent-Welt Wittgenstein has additionally created the Wisent-Wildnis attraction in Bad Berleburg. This has become home to a second herd in a 20-hectare enclosed wilderness. Here, visitors have a much better chance of seeing the herd. Even though the bison habitat is fenced off, visitors can still get the impression that they are walking right among the animals. Wisent-Wildnis does not view itself as a zoo, but rather as an opportunity to let the animals be seen in the most natural environment possible while allowing them plenty of space to roam and areas to take refuge. The varied landscape really helps here, with its combination of stream, valley head, valley, forest and rocks. Visitors can enjoy great views of the bison as they make their way through the landscape. A three-kilometre path leads them through a tunnel designed like a badger’s sett and along the course of a stream, with opportunities to view the gentle giants without disturbing them along the way.

Wisent-Wildnis am Rothaarsteig is a project that makes unique encounters with these amazing animals possible. The European bison is the continent’s largest land mammal and it commonly roamed European forests in the distant past. Indeed, Stone-Age cave drawings created over 30,000 years ago depict the characteristic form of a bison with its shaggy coat and distinctive head. The huge animals can grow up to three metres in length and up to two metres high, with some male animals weighing as much as one tonne. A secure fence means that visitors to Wisent-Wildnis have nothing to fear from the gentle giants, and an encounter in the free-roaming territory of Wisent-Welt is also likely to be uneventful. Just like ordinary cows, bison are placid ruminants who spend their time grazing leaves, young shoots, roots, bark, grass or crops. They tend to simply observe strangers with a watchful air. Visitors can learn more about the history and habits of the European bison at the Wisent Interactive Exhibition, which has free admission.

  • Bison in the Wisent-Welt-Wittgenstein, © Leo Thomas
    Overview map of the Wisent Wildnis, © Eva-Nadine Wunderlich
    Wild boars and bison in the wild, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
  • Front perspective Tunnel with view, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
    Wisent Wildnis on the Rothaarsteig, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
    The bisons are a popular photo motif, © Leo Thomas