A Unesco World Heritage Site some 60km north of Brest, Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park is the oldest wildlife refuge in Europe and is the pride of Belarus. Half the park’s territory lies in Poland, where it’s called Białowieża National Park. Some 1300 sq km of primeval forest survives here. It’s all that remains of a canopy that eight centuries ago covered northern Europe.
Some oak trees here are more than 600 years old and some pines at least 300 years old. At least 55 mammal species, including deer, lynx, boars, wild horses, wolves, elk, ermines, badgers, martens, otters, mink and beavers call this park home, but the area is most celebrated for its 300 or so European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal. These free-range zoobr – slightly smaller than their American cousins – were driven to near extinction (the last one living in the wild was shot by a hunter in 1919) and then bred back from 52 animals that had survived in zoos. Now a total of about 3000 exist, of which more than 300 are wild in the Belavezhskaya Pushcha. Amazingly you can pay to shoot them – ‘300 is enough’ according to park wardens, who want to control their numbers due to the vast amount of foliage these enormous beasts consume.