A domesticated cow in Poland has surprised biologists after it escaped and went on to spend the winter with a herd of wild bison in the primeval Bialowieza Forest. "It chose freedom," scientists said.
It's a heartwarming story, though naturalists were quite concerned about the cow. Ornithologist Adam Zbyryt was the first to spot it. He had seen plenty of bison before in the area, but something about one animal drew his eye.
"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," he told Poland's TVN24 news portal.
His first thought was that it must be an unusual individual, but that idea quickly disappeared when he had a more thorough look through his binoculars. Clear as day, that was a cow in the midst of bison -- a Limousin cow to be more precise, a type of French breed popular in Poland. The cow was perfectly healthy, unconcerned, and seemingly tolerated by the wild herd. All in all, the cow seemed to be having a field day in the wild.
Still, she wasn't exactly a full member of the herd, but more of a tag-along. When biologist Rafal Kowalczyk spotted the cow again this week, she was still healthy and keeping up with the herd. It was still unthreatened and healthy -- something which is impressive considering just how wild the primeval forest of Bialowieza can be. Kowalczyk believes that the herd of bison defended it from the wolves that prowl the edges of the forest.
However, it also became apparent that she wasn't fully integrated with the group. She was constantly on the edge of the herd, sometimes unsynchronized with the rest of the herd members. But all things considered, she was doing really well.
However, the story might not end that well. Biologists believe that she might return to the pastureland come springtime, and even if she doesn't, they might have to bring it back themselves. They are worried that she might be a danger to the bison themselves -- through breeding. Adding hybrids to the vulnerable population of only 520 bisons could be dangerous for the survival of the population, and even more dangerous for the cow itself. Another danger is that bison calves are large, and giving birth might kill the cow.
But for now, the cow's adventure continues. After all, it probably wanted what we all want deep down inside -- to be free.