The "Real Skinny" On The European Wisent


Published: June - 2003

The European bison, or wisent, is quite similar to the American bison. Its coat is dense and dark brown to golden brown in color. It has a short, thick neck, topped by a shoulder hump. The thickness of a wisent's neck is accentuated by long hair, which becomes a short mane on the underside.

The wisent has hindquarters that are somewhat larger than an American bison's, and it carries its head high. It has a broad, short skull. Its forehead is covered with a curly mop of hair, and it has a short beard on its chin. Horns are found in both sexes, project outwards and then curve upwards and slightly forwards. The body length of a mature wisent is about 9.6 feet and the shoulder height is between six and 6½ feet. A big bull can weigh upward of a ton.

Historically, the European bison's range encompassed almost all of Europe, including southern England and Russia. In former times, there used to be two different subspecies of the wisent: Bison bonasus bonasus that lived in flat areas, mainly in Poland and the European part of the former Soviet Union; and Bison bonasus caucasicus, the Caucasien wisent. At the end of World War II, only 56 wisent were left, all of them in zoos and private game parks. Thankfully, these captive-bred animals kept the species alive and paved the way, since 1980, for the creation of 24 separate herds of wild animals.

Historical records indicate that the wisent that can be hunted nowadays in the Caucasus are reintroduced flat-land animals (Bison bonasus bonasus), or at least not purebred Bison bonasus caucasicus. That's probably the reason why Safari Club International makes no distinction between wisent subspecies, simply lumping them all into a category called "European Bison." The measurement method of the wisent and the American bison in SCI is the same; and, according to the records, American bison trophies are slightly bigger than European ones.

The most popular wisent hunting grounds are in Poland, White Russia, the Ukraine........(continued)

 
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