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European Bison Fact File

Bison bonasus

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

300-920kg

(600-2,030lbs)

Length

2.1-3.5m

(7-11.5ft)

Lifespan

Wild 20 years

Captive 40 years

Diet

Herbivores

Grass, Twigs, Leaves

Conservation Status

IUCN

Near Threatened

Europe's Comeback King!

The European bison was driven to near extinction by the mid-1950s. Numbers dropped as low as 12 when the remaining individuals were brought in to captivity. Since then these individuals have bred and their offspring have been released to the wild.

Much of their active time is spent foraging for grasses, twigs and leaves. Some populations rely on supplemental feeding during winter.

Females give birth to a single calf. Males will fight over breeding rights with a herd at the start of the breeding season.

Current threats to this species include disease and genetic bottlenecks.

Read on to learn more the majestic mammals.

Appearance

What does the European Bison look like?

The European bison is covered by a coat of brown fur. Their coat is shorter and lighter in color when compared to the American bison.


On the back they have a well developed shoulder hump which helps to support the large head and bulky horns. They lack the shaggy mane seen in their relative the American bison.


On top of the head are a pair of short horns which turn upwards. Both the male and the female have horns.


At the end of the body is a tail measuring 30-60cm (12-23.5in) long.


An average European bison will measure 2.1-3.5m (7-11.5ft) long with a weight of 300-920kg (660-2,030lbs). These animals stand 1.65-1.9m (5.4-6.2ft) tall.


They are the largest native animal found in Europe.

Adaptations

How does the European Bison survive in its habitat?


The large hump behind the head is an adaptation which helps to support the weight of the head. It is filled with powerful muscles which help to support the large head and horns.

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Diet

What does the European Bison eat?

The European bison is a herbivore. They will feed on leaves, grasses, herbs, twigs and bark. Over 50 different grass species are found in their diet.

In some areas they receive supplemental feeding of hay during winter to help the remaining populations survive.

Almost two-thirds of their day will be spent feeding. Adults can eat over 60kg (132lbs).

To find food during winter they may consume ice crushed from streams or drink snow-water.

Learn more about the European Bison in this video from The New York Times on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the European Bison?

The European bison is naturally found in Europe. They were hunted to extinction but have since been reintroduced to the following countries – Belarus; Bulgaria; Germany; Latvia; Lithuania; Poland; Romania; Russia; Slovakia and Ukraine.

They are still extinct in the following countries – Austria; Belgium; Czechia; Denmark; Estonia; France; Hungary; Liechtenstein; Moldova; Netherlands; Serbia; Sweden and Switzerland.

Habitat

Where can the European Bison survive?

This species is found in areas of forest, grassland and shrubland. Most reintroductions have been in forested areas. They will also make use of abandoned farmland.

European Bison (Bison bonasus)

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the European Bison produce its young?

During the breeding season the males will battle in fierce competitions during which they charge and clash heads with one another.

Breeding takes place from August to October.

A female will give birth to a single calf following a 260-270 day gestation period. Within 3 hours of birth they will be up and running about.

Weaning takes place at one year old.

Sexual maturity is reached between 2 and 4 years old. It is not common for males to first breed until they are around six as they must be able to compete for access to females.

Females tend to live longer than males.

Behavior

What does the European Bison do during its day?

Previously this species would roam in herds made up of several thousand individuals. Due to significant hunting pressure they are now found in much smaller herds made up of a few females and their young. Male only herds are also recorded.

These animals are primarily active by night and will spend their day resting.

European Bison (Bison bonasus)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What stops the European Bison from surviving and thriving?

No natural predators of the European bison have been recorded likely due to their large size.

At the most recent assessment this species was said to be increasing in number. The total mature population living in wild areas is 2,500.

The population of this species fell to just 12 individuals at its lowest point after World War II. Much of the last surviving population was shot for food by soldiers. The remaining individuals were brought in to captivity.

Initial reintroduction efforts focused on the Białowieża Forest in Poland where the last remaining wild population lived.

This species continues to face a range of threats across their range. These include reduced genetic variability due to their near extinction. Most reintroduced populations are located far from one another which also means their is little genetic transfer between populations.

Other threats include disease and culling due to a perception that reintroduced populations are growing too large and may impact local land uses.

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Quick facts

The European bison is also known as the wisent.

They are the largest land animal in Europe.

European Bison (Bison bonasus)

Credit: Public Domain

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Plumb, G., Kowalczyk, R. & Hernandez-Blanco, J.A. 2020. Bison bonasusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T2814A45156279. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T2814A45156279.en. Accessed on 08 January 2022.

Miller, M., 2017. The Remarkable Story of How the Bison Returned to Europe – Cool Green Science. [online] Cool Green Science. Available at: <https://blog.nature.org/science/2017/08/22/remarkable-story-how-bison-returned-europe/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Coughlan, A., 2022. European bison – True Nature Foundation. [online] True Nature Foundation. Available at: <https://truenaturefoundation.org/european-bison/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Wildwood Kent. 2022. European Bison. [online] Available at: <https://kent.wildwoodtrust.org/animals/bison/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Fota Wildlife Park. 2022. European Bison. [online] Available at: <https://www.fotawildlife.ie/animals-plants/european-bison/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Wildwood Kent. 2022. European Bison. [online] Available at: <https://kent.wildwoodtrust.org/animals/bison/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Highland Wildlife Park. 2022. European Bison | Highland Wildlife Park. [online] Available at: <https://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/animals-attractions/animals/european-bison/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

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