Why did this cow cross the road? We’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t to get to the udder side.
This domesticated cow escaped her pen and has been spotted roaming Poland’s countryside with a 50-head herd of wild bison.
Some speculate she was searching for freedom.
Others say she’s just living her best life.
The reddish-brown Limousin was first reported last fall by Polish news portal TVN24. She was just a wee calf then and the ornithologist who spotted her assumed she would eventually make a return home. Then last week biologist Rafal Kowalczyk (coincidence?) saw the healthy cow again with the bison roaming the Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland.
The bison expert says she appears to be in good health, indicating she is able to find food.
“Thick fur common to her breed and the mild winter in eastern Poland so far this year have also helped her,” Kowalczyk told the Associated Press.
While it is an exceptional sight, Kowalczyk says it could also be a dangerous one.
Weighing in at 800 kilograms (over 1,750 pounds), the European buffalo is Europe’s largest mammal. If the cow mates with a bison and gets pregnant, the hybrid calf could be bigger than a normal cow calf and kill her.
If the cow is able to successfully bring a baby to term, any offspring would contaminate the gene pool of the already endangered bison population.
The European buffalo was driven nearly to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century when German soldiers and locals hunted them during the First World War. Through careful breeding, the herd has since been restored.
A “beefalo” baby might hinder progress made to protect the endemic species as well as the survival of Europe’s 8,000-year-old primeval forest.
It wouldn’t be the first time a cow-buffalo hybrid has wreaked havoc on an ecosystem. Beefalo first intentionally came into existence in the 1960s, when bison were cross-bred with domestic cattle in the southwest US. It was an effort to get the best of both the hardy, delicious bison and the fertile, easily-domesticated cow.
As with most ideas, it seemed like a good one at the time.
After escaping their pens, officials and tribal authorities have reported the beefalo – also called cattalo – is wreaking havoc on the region’s grassland ecosystem, drinking already limited water supplies, and destroying ancient stone ruins (buffalo have a tendency to rub themselves against standing structures).
At last count, an estimated 600 beefalo were still roaming the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
“While it certainly is not normal for a bison to accept a calf of a different species – we have some members who graze both beef and bison in the same pasture – it’s not unprecedented,” said Jim Matheson, assistant director of the National Bison Association. However, the National Bison Association includes in its code of ethics absolutely no crossbreeding of bison with any other species.
Both bison and domesticated cattle are part of the cloven-hooved Bovidae family, along with yak, antelopes, sheep, goats, and muskoxen.
Nonetheless, Kowalczyk says scientists will try to remove the cow from the herd by summer.