The European Bison

Giants of the forest

Schanze (Wisent Welt Wittgenstein e.V.)
Schanze (Wisent Welt Wittgenstein e.V.)

Reintroduced to the wild in 2013

The wild populations of both native wild cattle species Aurochs and European Bison had largely disappeared from Central Europe by the 15th century. Hunting and habitat destruction had decimated their populations. The last Aurochs died in Poland in 1627. The European Bison survived – barely.

Through the work of the International Society for the Conservation of European Bison, founded in 1923, the remaining stock of 54 Bisons in zoos and private game enclosures (descended from just 12 animals) was built up through targeted breeding into a relatively stable population. In 1952, a first European Bison herd was released into the forest of Bialowieza in Poland. Following further reintroductions in Eastern European countries, a small herd of eight European Bisons was reintroduced to the wild for the first time in Germany in 2013. At the beginning of 2016, 17 wild Bison were living in Wittgenstein's forests. The herd had thus more than doubled in size.

European bison are herd animals that roam the woods in small groups of up to 20 animals. They prefer extensive, not too dense, structurally diverse deciduous and mixed forests with a rich herb and shrub layer. A matriarch leads the herd, which consists of cows and their calves, as well as two- to three-year-old animals. The bulls join the herd during the rutting season.

The European Bison is the largest native land mammal of Europe and a close relative of the American Bison. The bulls reach a height of nearly two metres at the withers, while the cows are up to 1.70 metres high. Large bulls can have a weight of up to 920 kg. With their narrow rump and muscular shoulder area, the animals seem somewhat out of proportion. Nevertheless, they can reach a sprint speed of up to 60 kilometres per hour and are agile and adept, being able to jump ditches of up to three metres in width and obstacles that are two metres high.

European Bison cows can reach an age of 25 years, while bulls do not usually live longer than 20 years.