European bison Bison bonasus


Status: Endangered


Also known as Wisent. The European bison, or 'wisent', is similar in appearance to its North American relative: Bison bison. Although smaller in size, they have the characteristic thickset body shape with a short neck and a pronounced shoulder hump. There is a longer mane of hair underneath the neck and also on the forehead. The dense coat is dark to golden brown in colour, but is less shaggy than that of the American bison. Both sexes bear short horns that project outwards and then curve up.

Bison feed predominantly on grasses although they will also browse on shoots and leaves; in summer months, an adult male can consume 32kg of food in a day. Bison need to drink every day and in winter can be seen breaking ice with their heavy hooves. Despite their usual slow movements, bison are surprisingly agile and can clear 3 metre wide streams from a standing start.


Distribution: mixed deciduous forests in Bialowiesza (Poland) and Western Caucasus.


THREATS: With the advance of agriculture, vast tracts of the European bison's habitat were lost and their range became massively restricted. These animals were also persecuted by hunting and in 1927 the species finally became Extinct in the Wild. Reintroductions of the bison to some of its former range have proved extremely successful and, due to the natural low mortality of the species, it has even been necessary to cull some populations in order to manage them effectively.


POPULATION: about 3500.