European Bison

(Bison bonasus)




Facts about this animal

The European bison or wisent is the largest land mammal surviving in Europe. Males may reach a weight of 1000 kgs, ahead-body-length of 290 cm and a shoulder height of up to 200 cm. The tail is about 80 cm long. The neck is short and thick, topped by a shoulder hump. The head is broad and short. The horns, found in both sexes, project outwards and then curve upwards and slightly forwards.

The coat is dense and dark brown to golden brown in colour. There is longer hair on the neck, which forms a short mane on the underside. There is a curly mop of hair on the forehead and a short beard on the chin.

The wisent inhabits mixed deciduous forests with interspersed meadows and mosses. It is active throughout the day, though the distribution of activity is affected by food supply. In the summer, feeding occurs primarily in the morning and evening, and rarely at night.

Rutting season is in August and September. After a gestation period of 254-272 days usually one single calf is born with a birth weight of about 30 kgs. The calfs are weaned at 6-8 months. Sexual maturity is reached at 2-4 years. The life span is up to 27 years.


Some authors consider the American bison and the wisent to be conspecific, grouping the two into a single species. The wisent's hindquarters are somewhat larger than those of the American bison, and the head is carried higher. The two taxa can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

Did you know?
that the wisent has been exterminated in the wild in 1925? The species only survived thanks to the efforts of zoos and wildlife parks, which jointly bred the 56 animals that had survived in human care.


Name (Scientific) Bison bonasus
Name (English) European Bison
Name (French) Bison d'Europe
Name (German) Wisent
Name (Spanish) Bisonte europeo
Local names Belarusian, Czech, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian: Zubr
Lithuanian: Stumbras
Romanian: Zimbrul
Slovak: Zubor
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Henryk Kotowski



Range Reintroduced in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia and Ukraine. Introduced to Kyrgyzstan.
Habitat Deciduous and mixed forests
Wild population As a result of various conservation plans (reintroduction, captive breeding and others), there are 1,800 individuals (IUCN Red List 2011)
Zoo population 394 reported to ISIS (2008). 1376 in 247 holdings according to the International Studbook (31.12.2006)

In the Zoo

European Bison


How this animal should be transported

For road transport, in general, a trailer is used. Because of the large size of wild cattle, the use of a crate is generally not recommended except for transport of juvenile or sub-adult animals or for air transport. When transporting wild cattle in a trailer, animals should be singly-stalled and stalls should be partitioned in such a way that the animal has enough room to lie down and stand up, but not turn around. Too much space allows the animal to jump up, potentially injuring itself.

For air transport, Container Note 73 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations, should be followed.


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Why do zoos keep this animal

The European bison or wisent was exterminated in the wild and survived only in human care. To save the species from extinction, European zoo directors and othert wisent owners founded, in 1923, International Association for the Conservation of the Wisent. An International Studbook was established in 1932. As of today, there exists a viable zoo population and the species could be re-established in the wild.