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European bison Forest Emperor Print E-mail

European bison

GENUS BISON


Genus Bison includes large, massive animals inhabiting at certain time two continents: Europe and North America. This genus is currently represented by two species – European bison Bison bonasus and a North American bison Bison bison. There are two subspecies in these two species. A species of prairie bison Bison bison bison evolved on
a treeless prairie, while the tree-covered areas of the current northern Canada were inhabited by a species of wood bison Bison bison. The vast, North American prairies were traversed by countless herds of bison. At the beginning of the 19th century, their total number was estimated at 40 million. However, an unprecedented slaughter of these animals eradicated these large herds. At the end of the 19th century (1895), the total number of bison dropped down to only 800. Further extermination was prevented by including them in the list of protected animals.

Emperor of the Forest.
Photograph by J. Walencik
Currently, the total number of these animals is estimated at 100 000 specimens. Apart from the herds under the state protection, living e.g. in the Yellowstone National Park of the National Bison Range in Montana, a number of bison are also bred by private breeders exclusively for commercial purposes.

The fortune of forest bison living in the vast and inaccessible areas of the northern Canada was significantly different. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 6000 prairie bisons were transported from the USA, which resulted in the mixture of the two subspecies. Currently, there is no certainty whether the wood bison was preserved anywhere in its natural form. The European bison also featured two distinct subspecies – a lowland bison, also called the Bia這wie瘸 bison Bison bonasus bonasus and the mountain Caucasian bison Bison bonasus caucasicus.
The Caucasian bisons did not make it to our times. The last bison of this subspecies dies in the Caucasus in 1927. Only one specimens survived, transported from the Caucasus to Germany in 1908. This one year old bull was kept in a private zoo in Boitzenburg in Germany. It was living in captivity for 18 years.

 

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At this time, also Bia這wie瘸 bison were kept in the zoos and zoo parks. The aforementioned bull had numerous offspring with the Bia這wie瘸 females, representing a mixture of Caucasian and Bia這wie瘸 bison. Even though the currently bred bison have only a minor share of the original Caucasian bison genome and they do not look in any way different than the lowland bison, they are bred and kept separately. Currently in Poland, lowland – Caucasian bison are living exclusively in Bieszczady.
Currently, there are several herds of free roaming lowland – Caucasian bison in the several ranges of the vast Caucasian mountains. Unstable political situation in this region resulted in a dramatic decrease in the largest herd in Cejskim Zapoviedniku in the area of North Ostia. A smaller, free roaming herd in Chechnya was completely wiped out. The fact, that in the area occupied historically by the Caucasian bison (Kaukaski Zapoviednik) are currently also shared with a mix between American and European bison (obviously not included in the world register of bison), is unfavourable for the future of the free roaming bison population in this region. At the beginning of the last thousand years, lowland bison were common game in the vast forests covering Europe at this time and represented a highly valuable game. In the Middle Ages in certain European countries, including Poland and Germany, bison hunting was a royal privilege. In Poland, bison protection is first mentioned in the Lithuanian Statutes (16th century), while King Zygmunt August pronounced
a decree indicating that anyone responsible for the death of a bison without a royal authorization would be put to death. Despite that fact, the total number of bison was in the decrease and their living habitats were shrinking. The main reason is the shrinking of the total area of the mixed and deciduous forests – the natural refuge of the bison.

 
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