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European bison

The European bison, or wisent as it is also called, was after the latest ice age common over most of the continent, including Sweden. Due to intensive hunting, it became extinct in
Scandinavia. It is easy to imagine that a herd of such large animals grazing would have affected their surroundings and made it quite different from the Swedish nature of today.

Threat category according to IUCN
  • Least
  • Near
  • Vulnerable
  • Endangered
  • Critically
  • Utdöd
  • Class Mammals (Mammalia)
  • Order Even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla)
  • Family Bovids (Bovidae)
  • Genus Bison
  • Species Bison bonasus

The bison is the largest terrestrial animal in Europe. The male weighs 800–1000 kg and the female 500–600 kg.


The bison inhabits dense forests with access to water. They collect in herds of 5–30 animals during winter. In the spring, the herds separate into groups of adult males versus groups of females and calves. During the rutting season, the males move between female groups and violent fighting may occur.

Food habits

The bison feeds on grass, herbs, lichen, mosses, bark and twigs from bushes and trees.


May live up to 20–24 years in the wild.

Threat category

The European bison was almost completely eradicated from the wild in the 1920s. Only around 50 animals remained in German, Polish and Swedish zoos. These individuals were used to build up the population that today lives in Eastern Europe, mainly Poland, as well as in the former Soviet Union. A conservation program was started as early as 1929 and the Swedish zoos Skansen and Avesta Jernverk were instrumental from early on. The threat category has changed from “Extinct in the wild” to “Vulnerable”. Definitely an improvement!


The gestation period is 8–9 months after which the female gives birth to one or two calves.

Did you know?

The differences between an European and an American bison: Height – the European is higher. Tail – the European has a longer tail. Weight – the American is much heavier and more powerful. Horns – the European’s horns point up, whereas the American bison’s horns point forward.

Several bison from Borås Zoo have been released into the wild in Poland and Rumania.

Eurasian elk > < Grey wolf