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European Bison

European Bison
Photographer: Ludwig Schneider

European Bison
Photographer: Alexandr Frolov

European Bison Range Map (Europe)
European Bison Range Map (Europe)
Attribution: IUCN, species assessors & spatial data authors

Latin Name Bison Bonasus
Conservation Status Vulnerable
Location Europe
Colour Brown - Dark Brown
Length 2.1 - 3.1 m (7 - 10 ft)
Tail 30 - 60 cm (12 - 24 inches)
Weight 300 - 1000 kgs (660 - 2,200 lbs)
Life Expectancy Up to 25 Yrs (In the wild)
Up to 30 Yrs (In captivity)

Main Characteristics

European Bison are smaller than their better-known American Bison relatives. They have a body length between 2.1 and 3.1 m (7 - 10 ft), a tail length between 30 and 60 cms (12 - 24 inches) and females typically weigh between 300 and 540 kgs (660 - 1,190 lbs) and males between 400 and 920 kgs (880 - 2,028 lbs), although some large bulls have been recorded at 1,000 kgs (2,200 lbs) or more.

European Bison have shorter hair than the American Bison, but strangely they tend to have hairier tails. Their head is set at a slightly higher angle than the American Bison, and this means they tend to browse more from slightly higher foliage, and graze less from ground-level grasses.

European Bison are less tamable than American Bison, and as such they breed less readily with domestic cattle.


European Bison used to inhabit temperate, coniferous forests in much of Europe. From Russia and southern Sweden, down to the Balkans and Northern Spain. However for centuries their numbers have dwindled as they were hunted and driven out of their natural habitat due to forestry and farming. Slowly the European Bison was eradicated from countries across Europe and in 1927 the last wild European Bison was killed by poachers in southern Russia. In that year fewer than 50 European Bison existed, all of them in zoos.

Thankfully, since then numbers of the European Bison have been gradually increased and a number of herds have been returned to the wild in several countries. European Bison can now be found in nature reserves in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Spain. There are plans to reintroduce the animal to additional reserves in Germany and the Netherlands.


European Bison prefer areas of vegetation at least 20 years old and their diet changes seasonally. During most of the year the animals graze on grasses, and this accounts for the vast majority of their food intake. However they will occasionally browse other foliage, and they are known to eat bark - usually in early spring when their is little other food available.

During the summer, when food is most plentiful, adult males may consume 32 kg of food per day, and adult females 23 kg per day.

European Bison must drink every day. In winter they have been seen using their hooves to break the ice to get at the water below.


The breeding season for European Bison runs from August to October. Breeding age bulls move between female groups looking for receptive cows. The bulls will often stay with the cow for at least a day before mating occurs. Afterward the bull will stay near the cow to prevent her returning to the herd immediately. He will also prevent other males from approaching her.

Gestation lasts around nine months and most calves are born between May and July. Usually the cow will give birth to just one calf, but occasionally twins are born. European Bison calves are able to run just a few hours after being born and they are weaned when they reach 7 - 12 months.

Both males and females reach sexual maturity at 3 - 4 years of age.


European Bison have no natural predators other than humans. However centuries ago when European Bison shared their habitat with European Brown Bears, the occasional infirm or young animal may have been preyed upon.


There are two subspecies of the European Bison and these are:

Bison bonasus hungarorum (extinct)
Bison bonasus caucasicus (extinct)

Interesting Facts

European Bison are also known as:
European Wood Bison

The fact the European Bison survives today is the result of what may be one of the first wildlife protection programs. All living European Bison are descendents of bison in the Bialowieza Forest which straddles the Belarus/Polish border. These animals were decreed property of the Polish Kings. The Polish royalty took measures to protect the European Bison, including issuing a death penalty for anyone found guilty of poaching.

Tragically, during World War One, occupying German troops in Poland killed 600 European bison in the Bialowieza Forest. A German scientist told German army officers that the European Bison was facing imminent extinction. But as the war came to an end, the retreating German soldiers killed all but nine of the animals.

To this day the European Bison suffers as a result of this extremely small gene pool, and it is particularly prone to diseases. In addition the species has a slightly higher calf mortality rate than what would be deemed normal.

Similar Animals

American Bison
Asian Water Buffalo
African Buffalo


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