This is one of the most impressive and mostly visited assets of Panevėžys forests. The paddock is intended for the largest wild animals – European bisons, included in the Lithuanian and international red list of extinct and endangered species.
Yet back until the 16th century, bisons were common in the entire territory of Europe. They lived in sparse forests of deciduous trees as well as in mixed woods, steppes and mountains. Eventually the development of agriculture, rapid increase of human population and reckless hunting drove the bisons out to forests that were little-suitable for their habitation, distant and tenebrous. By 1854, all bisons in Lithuania have been decimated. In 1919, the last female bison living in freedom was shot in Białowieża Forest, Poland.
In 1923, an International Society for Protection of European Bison was established. It inventoried all bisons surviving in zoos, parks or private homesteads. There were 54 pure-blooded bisons remaining; out of those 42 belonged to Lithuanian pedigree. Poland was the most concerned about the fate of bisons, because during the World War II, bisons were exterminated in the territory of the USSR, and survived in Poland.
In 1947, there were 95 pure-blooded bisons registered that were living all over the world in enclosures, semi-freely. In 1952, two bisons were released from enclosures in Białowieża Forest, Poland. In 1963, there were already 56 bisons living in enclosures and freely in Białowieża Forest, Poland, whereas in 1960 there was 31 bison in the part of Białowieża Forest, located in Belarus. 1972 saw 1288 pure-blooded bisons living in the world.
The possibility to breed bisons in Lithuania was first discussed in 1966 in the meeting taking place on the Union level in Moscow. A mixed-type Pašiliai forest in the region of Panevėžys, Krekenava Forest District, was stipulated as suitable for bison paddock. In 1969 m. the first two bisons – MOTOK and MODA - were delivered from the Prioksko-Terrasny reservation in Russia and released to the enclosures of 50 ha. In 1970, six more bisons were delivered, in 1972 – two more. In 1971 MODA produced its first offspring, it was given the name GIRINIS. In line with international agreement, bison calves born in Lithuanian bison paddock are given names starting with GI. They are also issued international numbers. Already in 1973, 5 bisons were released from paddocks to Pašiliai forest. Two more were released both in 1975 and in 1976. Thus, the formation of free herd of bisons was commenced in Lithuania. The bisons started breeding. In 1977, there were already 13 bisons living in freedom: 9 bulls and 4 females.
In 1976, the paddock contained 17 bisons, while there were 13 more living free. In winter they used to approach the bison paddock, where they got fed. Bold at first, eventually the animals became more wary and started avoiding people.
In 1978, 3 bulls separated from the herd and started roaming over the country. One was recorded as missing, other two were poached.
Currently, there are 17 bisons living in the paddock. In the freedom, there are about 50 bisons wandering around the paddock within the radius of 30-40 km. During 35 years of operation, 140 calves were born in Pašiliai bison paddock; 80 more were born in freedom. It is difficult to count the free bisons, because they became very cautious; some of them stray into small groves or farmers’ fields and become the poachers’ victims or perish due to other reasons. In 1974, attempts were made to form a free herd of bisons in Širvintos region, Šešuoliai forest. Seven bisons were released there, however this experiment failed. Over a few years, all bisons either perished or were poached. It turned out that bisons cannot survive in small forests.
In 2005, pursuant to the resolution of the Government, Pašiliai bison paddock was transferred from Directorate of Krekenava Regional Park to Panevėžys State Forest Enterprise. The bison paddock is frequently visited by tourists from Lithuania as well as foreign countries.