Monday, April 5, 2010

A Piece of Magic Ancient Forest

I learned about some of the last remains of the once bountiful European primeval forest not from a guidebook or fellow traveler, but rather from the book, The Zookeeper's Wife - an excellent read. The Białowieza Forest, originally all within Russian borders, now lies partly in Belarus, known there as Belovzhskaya Pushcha,  and partly in Poland almost due east of Warsaw. Fortunately for everyone the forest was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and about fourteen years later as a Biosphere Reserve.

The protected forest covers almost 38,000 acres. Tree lovers and huggers will especially appreciate the grandmother oak trees some over 800 years old and reaching 150 feet tall! Interestingly this patch of forest has alternated through hundreds of years of history between a protected forest reserve and a hunting ground. Most of the wild animals were hunted to near extinction, but now many of the indigenous animals - wolf, lynx, peregrine falcon- can be found at the park zoo including the Wisent (pronounced Vizent) - the European version of the American Buffalo which now has a protected reserve within the park.

To help preserve this treasured plot of forest, tourists are not allowed into the deepest part of the reserve - only researchers are allowed access. Guided tours are available to certain areas. But there are routes in the Hwozna Protective Unit for walking and biking (skiing in the winter), as well as special guided tours through some of the more restricted areas of the park - the Orłówka Protective Unit. All must be arranged through the park.

The Park Website, fortunately with an English version, offers extensive  information about the flora and fauna in the park, museum opening times, entry fees, as well as details about the 105 guest beds available in the adjacent Palace Park.

The Website also instructs you in how to behave should you come upon one of the massive Wisents in your touring - most importantly remain calm (if you can) while you marvel at these incredible creatures and majestic, wise trees.

Białowieza National Park 
17-230 Białowieza, Park Pałacowy 11, Poland 
Tel: (+48) 85 682-9700 or 85 681-2306 
E-mail:; Web; You can reach the park by train and bus.

The Zookeeper's Wife, Diane Ackerman. Norton 2007

No comments: