European Bison or Wisent
Have a close resemblance to their American cousin but are a separate species. Heaviest wild land animal in Europe; weighing between 400-1,000kg and standing up to 2 metres tall. Bison belong to the bovine family (which includes cattle) and both males and females possess horns which are used in fighting. They have a very distinctive, muscular humped shoulder and short legs.
Historically, it could be found throughout western, central and south eastern Europe, but suffered wide scale extinction by 1920s. Currently, there are semi-wild herds in Eastern Europe and Russia following reintroductions.
Mixed forest and grassland habitats.
Mainly feed on grasses, however a range of plants are eaten such as woody plants, tree bark and flowers. Seasons may affect this, with bison preferring protein rich plants in the springtime.
Diurnal, herd animal. Herds can be mixed or male-only groups. Mixed herds tend to have more individuals (on average 13 animals) and comprise of adult females, calves up to 2-3 years and young adult bulls. “Rutting” season occurs between August-October and involves males becoming increasingly aggressive. Can involve scent marking, displays and fighting amongst males in order to attract females for mating.
Total worldwide population today is around 6,500 individuals following their extinction in the wild in the 1920s, which left only 50 animals in captivity. In 1929, the first successful reintroduction of Bison from zoos took place in the Białowieża Forest in Poland. Since 1951, European Bison have been reintroduced into the wild across Europe. These countries include, but are not limited to Poland, Latvia, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Habitat loss and fragmentation due to agriculture and logging was a contributing factor to their catastrophic decline and still impacts populations today. Hunting also had a huge effect, especially during World War I, when soldiers hunted them for sport, meat, hides and horn. In current populations, due to the degree of habitat loss, many populations exist in small areas of forest due to the conflict with human population density; there is just not enough room. Due to small population size, resistance to diseases as well as inbreeding can pose a problem.
An ambitious project to restore nature and rewild Kent, through a partnership between Wildwood trust and Kent Wildlife trust, hopes to see European Bison introduced to the Blean. For more information on this exciting new initiative, see our project conservation page.
Bison are quite large, so our Bison are easy to spot in their enclosure in the top forest area of the park. We are home to two males called Haydes and Orsk.
Did you know?
During summer, a male bison can eat up to 32kg of food in a day!