In the age of the sixth extinction, human interventions to save endangered species have become bigger, bolder and costlier than ever. Yet, policies of species conservation have also favoured non-intervention, furthering the idea that humans have tampered too much with wildness and wilderness. This article examines a reintroduction of European Bison (Bison bonasus, also known as wisent) into the South-Western Carpathians of Romania in the 2010s. It compares it with longer-term recovery efforts in the Białowieża forest in Poland and reveals how interventions and non-interventions have been practised in the conservation history of this species. I trace the complexities of lived reintroduction processes, both contemporary and historical. I show that practices of recovering European bison have (slowly) shifted away from a controlling approach to reintroductions inspired by livestock breeding, and towards a hands-off rewilding approach. Yet, entangled human–wildlife histories, in which management has been paramount, challenge contemporary non-intervention rewilding paradigms that advocate for the autonomy and agency of wildlife. Reintroduction managers walk a fine line between intervention and relinquishment, care and containment, permanently recalibrating human–animal relationships.
Image Caption: Release of the first European bison into the acclimatisation enclosure in the South-Western Carpathians, 2014. Photo courtesy of www.outdoorphotography.ro/ Silviu Matei