Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wisent

Wisent Bull
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Genus : Bison
Species : B. bonasus

Height : 6ft (180cm)
Weight : 2,000lbs (900kg)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

Also known as the European Bison, the Wisent once had a range that spread across the whole of Europe. Unfortunately, like their American cousins, they were hunted to near extinction. By the end of World War I, Europe's largest land animal had gone completely extinct in the wild, and only 54 individuals were living in captivity.

Captive breeding and reintroduction have saved this species, and there are now around 1,800 free ranging Wisent in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and several other Eastern European countries. In 2010, seven individuals, two males and five females, were released in northern Spain, a nod back to the days when the Wisent could be found across the entire continent.

Wisent Calf
There are unfortunately a few issues that plague the success of the species, one being the lack of genetic diversity. Because all Wisent  are descended from only 12 individuals, they are extremely susceptible to disease, including foot-and-mouth. Another issue is the existence of hybrid American-European Bison herds in the Caucasus Mountains. These hybrids live very close to the reintroduced Wisent, and there are fears that there will be intermingling.

Wisent are actually not all that different from American Bison. They are slightly smaller, and have longer legs but less hair. Wisent also browse, while Bison typically graze for their meals. They live in herds that are not typically family groups, and females give birth to one calf at a time. Wisent can live as long as 25-30 years.

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