Animal of the Month
Name: Wisent (A.K.A. European Bison, Zubr)
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.
Color(s): Brown with
patches of black; white tongue.
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
Bialowieza Park Nardowy-Check
out the birthplace of the wisent conservation movement!
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
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