The ancient Białowieża Forest is one of the few places left in Europe where wild predators and their prey roam freely. But on a recent snowy winter night, some of those predators tangled with the wrong opponents.

Białowieża lies on the border between Poland and Belarus, the largest remnant of the primeval forests that once covered much of northern Europe. According to 2015 estimates, the Polish section is home to over 500 European bison and around 30 wolves. Both species are strictly protected here. 

Thanks to remote cameras installed back in 2012, viewers have been able to tune in to the day-to-day lives of bison in this northern stretch of the forest, where local rangers put out supplemental feed for the animals during the harsh winter months. Winter feeding of bison has been practiced in the forest for centuries, and the animals tend to gather in larger numbers around these areas.

"For the wolves, [the] snowy night seemed like the prefect occasion for a hunt. This brief confrontation, however, showed who's the boss around here," wrote the Żubry Online team on Facebook when posting the clip, which has been viewed almost a million times [translated from Polish].

Though smaller than their American counterparts, the bison are Europe's largest land mammals, and a healthy, fully grown animal has little to fear from a wolf. Even in Yellowstone National Park in the US, where wolves do occasionally target bison, taking on such supersized prey is risky – research has shown that only large packs, made up of as many as 13 animals hunting together, will attempt it. In Białowieża, the wolves rely mainly on red deer and wild boar.

The forest remained one of Europe's last bison strongholds as hunting and habitat loss pushed the species to extinction in the wild in the early twentieth century, but by 1919, the last bison here had disappeared. It was only ambitious reintroduction efforts from a handful of captive animals that assured their return. Today, free-ranging bison are found in nine European countries, but the largest population remains in Białowieża, and it's growing. The shaggy giants might be its icons, but the old-growth forest harbours untold biodiversity besides – which is why controversial logging plans by the Polish government ignited fierce opposition last year.

This isn't the first time that Białowieża's wolves have diced with bison only to come up short. Back in 2013, cameras captured a similar snowy encounter:


Top header image: François Xavier, Flickr