The European bison, also known as wisent, is the cousin of the North American bison. Wisent are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, but their status was much worse nearly a century ago. Due to a combination of habitat loss, war and poaching, the wisent was declared extinct in the wild after the last one was shot in 1921. Thankfully, 56 wisent survived in zoos scattered around Europe and a joint breeding program was quickly set up to save the species. It took nearly thirty years but the European bison began to be reintroduced throughout the forests of Belarus, Poland, Russia, Lithuania and the Ukraine in the early 1950’s.
The current wild wisent population is less than 2,500 as their success is still hampered by a lack of habitat but nearly 1,400 live in 250 zoos and game preserves around the world. We currently have 1.6 (one male, six female) European bison at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
Are bison and buffalo the same thing?
No. Bison belong to the family Bovidae, which include wild and domestic cattle as well as buffalo, but there are a number of significant differences between the two.
- Live in North America and Europe
- Have long shaggy hair
- Have large shoulders and pronounced humps
- Have short horns
- Live in Africa (cape buffalo) and Asia (water buffalo)
- Have short thin hair
- Have smaller shoulders and no humps
- Have long horns
Life Span: up to 27 years
Habitat: Mixed and deciduous forests, meadows
Height (at the shoulders): 1.8 – 2 metres
Weight: 800- 1000 kg
Body Length: 2.9 metres
Tail Length: 80 cm
Thanks to everyone that listens to Zoo Knew every Sunday morning at 7:15 on CJOB68, where we talked about bison this morning. I hope you’ll take a chance to visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo today or in the near future to view both our European and our North American bison herds. If you’re not in Winnipeg, take a visit to your nearest zoo to find out about all of the amazing animals that live there. Take part in a guided tour or read some of the interpretive signs and find out what your local zoo is doing to save and preserve endangered species. I think you’ll be surprised how much work zoos do! Please feel free to send me your comments or links to success stories.