Animal of the Month
May 2022

Name: Wisent (A.K.A. European Bison, Zubr)

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidea
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bison
Species: B. bonasus
Suborder: B. b. bonasus
Suborder: B. b. caucasicus
Suborder: B. b. montanus (disputed)

Size: Males about 9.2-10.8 feet long, females about 7.9-9.5 feet long.
Weight: Males 1,356-2,028 lbs., females 935-1,396 lbs.

Four-legged animal with hooves; large stout body; rounded hump at the shoulders behind the head; two curved horns on top of head, shaggy fur.

Color(s): Brown with patches of black; white tongue.
Behavior: Herd animal, diurnal.
Preferred Habitit: Broadleaf and coniferous forests, and open grasslands.

Range: Scattered areas of Belarus, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Diet: Mostly grasses; also roots and shoots.
Lifespan: 14-28 years.

Status: Near Threatened

Many Americans have relatives that live across the Atlantic in Europe. This is true for humans…and bison! In Europe, the wisent, also called the European bison, is a cousin of the iconic American bison, boasting the title of the heaviest land animal in Europe! Wisents can be found in scattered locations across Europe, including Belarus, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Wisents look similar to their American cousins. They're both grass eaters, have huge, stout bodies with two horns on their head, and are covered in brown fur. However, there are a few notable differences between the two species. Wisents are generally taller than American bison. They also tend to browse for food rather than graze, due to the way their heads are positioned. Wisents are slower than American bison, but they can jump higher and farther. Their horns point forward, making them more useful in head-to-head combat, and their noses are set more forward on their faces. Wisents prefer to lock horns with an opponent rather than charge at full speed. It's amazing how species can be so similar while also being so different!

Wisents typically live in herds of around 8-13 individuals. Generally, herds are made up of females and juveniles. Males will either form their own small herds or live on the edge of larger herds to protect from them predators. Wisents mate from August through October. Males are old enough to mate at around 4-6 years, though typically they have to wait longer as older males will discourage them. A female wisent will carry her baby for 264 days before giving birth.

Wisents unfortunately have one other thing in common with American bison - they were nearly driven to extinction. Wisents were once found across Europe and Asia, but overhunting and human expansion drove them from their range. In the early 20th century, the situation was so severe that wisents actually became extinct in the wild, surviving only in captivity.

Fortunately, the story took a dramatic turn for the better. In 1929, the Bison Restitution Center was founded in Poland. In 1948, the Bison Breeding Center was founded in the Prioksko-Terrasny Biosphere Preserve in Russia. In 1951, the first wisents were reintroduced into the wild. Today, there are over 1000 wild wisents in multiple countries! Captive breeding programs continue to reacquaint the wisent with its European range, with individuals being released in the U.K. and Germany!

There is still a lot of work to be done. Wisents face problems like habitat loss and genetic diversity. But, thanks to the perseverance of dedicated individuals, the battle to save the wisents is far from lost and continues to grow with hope.
To learn more about these European cousins of American bison, check out the links below:

Bialowieza Park Nardowy-Check out the birthplace of the wisent conservation movement!

Prioksko-Terrasny Biosphere Preserve-Learn about the preserve that protects a myriad of wildlife, including the wisent!

European Bison Conservation Center-A coalition of wisent breeders, dedicated to creating a future of conservation!


Contact Us