Joseph Reaney visits the Bialowieza nature reserve in Belarus in search of its most iconic resident.
It’s early morning and I’m tiptoeing through the undergrowth. Shafts of sunlight pierce the canopy overhead, spotlighting fragments of the forest all around me. I survey them for the slightest sign of movement. This ancient habitat is home to an extraordinary array of endangered species, but I’m in pursuit of one in particular – the heaviest wild animal living on the continent, the European bison.
It wasn’t too long ago that these gentle giants – the 2,000lbs herbivore cousins of the American buffalo – roamed freely across northern Europe. However, by the start of the 20th century, the European bison had been hunted to near extinction by a succession of Polish princes, Russian tsars and German troops.