|Linnaeus , 1758|
The wisent or European bison ( Bos bonasus ; often also Bison bonasus ) is a European type of cattle (Bovini). Wisents were still found in the primeval forests of western, central and south-eastern Europe until the early Middle Ages . Their habitat are temperate deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests. Wisents are herd animals, but only to be found in small groups depending on their habitat. Typical herds include 12 to 20 animals and consist of cows and young animals. Sexually mature bulls only stay with the herds during the rutting season . The externally similar American bison ( Bos bison ) can be crossed with the bison without restriction .
In Europe, there was not only the actual bison ( Bos bonasus ), sometimes called plains bison, nor the mountain bison ( Bos caucasicus ), which, however extinct (partly it is only as is subspecies considered the European bison and then with Bos bonasus caucasicus hereinafter) or in a mixed form ( hybrid ) with the actual bison. In bison breeding, a distinction is made between three breeding lines: the lowland line (homozygous lowland bison) , the lowland-Caucasus line (crossing of the lowland and mountain bison) and the highland line (crossing of the flat and mountain bison with further crossing of American bison). All pure-blooded animals are registered in the World Wildlife Breeding Book, which is kept in the Białowieża National Park .
In the 1920s, the bison was acutely threatened with extinction; the last wild bison (a mountain wisent) was shot in the Caucasus in 1927 . All bison living today are descended from twelve bison kept in zoos and animal enclosures. The low genetic variability is considered to be one of the main threats to the long-term conservation of the species . After efforts by zoos and private individuals, the way to get that first free-ranging bison herds were in 1952 in what is now Białowieża on the Polish-Belarusian border by reintroduction reintroduced be. In 2004 there were 31 wild populations with a total strength of 1955 bison. This corresponds to around 60 percent of the world's population. In 2013, an eight-headed bison herd was released into the North Rhine-Westphalian Rothaar Mountains (see below ). This means that for the first time in half a millennium, bison are living free in what is now Germany. The German Wildlife Protection Association declared the bison animal of the year for 2008 and again for 2014 .
Since the aurochs in Europe became extinct, the bison has been the heaviest and largest land mammal and also the last representative of the wild cattle species on the European continent. Wisents have 14 pairs of ribs and five lumbar vertebrae . The Domestic Cattle , however, has 13 pairs of ribs and six lumbar vertebrae. Sexually mature bison bulls are much heavier and larger than adult cows. The noticeable difference in weight between males and females does not develop until they are three years old. At birth, cow calves weigh an average of 24 kilograms and bull calves 28 kilograms. In the first three months of life, the weight doubles and at the end of the first year of life averages 175 kilograms for cows and 190 kilograms for bulls. At the age of four, bulls kept in pens, on the other hand, weigh 500 kilograms, while cows weigh an average of 400 kilograms. The heaviest bull kept in Polish pens reached a body weight of 920 kilograms. The bison kept in the wild in the Białowieża Reserve, however, are much lighter. Four-year-old bulls weigh an average of 467 kilograms while cows weigh 341 kilograms. The heaviest bull in the wild weighed 840 kilograms.
The head-torso length is up to three meters in bulls older than six years. Their height at the withers can be up to 1.88 meters. Wisent cows reach a maximum height at the withers of 1.67 meters and a head-trunk length of 2.70 meters.
The trunk is relatively short and narrow in both sexes. The head is set low and small in relation to the body. What is particularly noticeable in bison is the back line sloping backwards from the withers and the very muscular front part compared to the relatively weak rear end. Wisent calves are initially long-legged and without such disproportionate differences. The typical wisent body proportions develop between the ages of eight and ten months.
In bulls the spinous processes of the thoracic vertebrae are longer and more strongly surrounded by muscles, so that their hump is noticeably larger than that of the females. The ears are short, wide, densely hairy and largely hidden in the thick hair on the head. Both sexes have horns that stand at the back of the head. The horns of the cows are shorter and thinner compared to those of the bulls. Horn systems are already developed in newborn calves. Only from the age of two do the horns bend inward, while the distance between the horn tips remains greater than at the horn bases. The horn curvature is more developed in cows, so that the horn spacing is greater in the bulls. The horns are usually gray-black, but light-colored horn tips appear in individual individuals. Older bulls often have blunt horn tips.
The cows udder , which has two pairs of teats, is small and set on high. The bull's scrotum lies close to the lower abdomen and is significantly smaller than that of a domestic cattle, for example. The penis foreskin ends with a tuft of hair, so that the sexes can be determined relatively clearly during field observations. The eyes are relatively small, brown in color with a transverse oval pupil . The edges of the eyelids and the conjunctiva are black. A musk odor is also characteristic of bison .
The skin of bison is thickest on the middle back of the neck and extremely elastic. In the literature there are descriptions of accidents or fights with conspecifics in which the animals suffered severe internal injuries but the skin was not penetrated. The sound repertoire of the bison is not very large. Characteristic sounds are a humming beating and a sharp snort when excited. Cows are able to identify their calves based on their voices, and calves can also use their voices to find their mothers within larger herds.
Coat and hair change
The color of the coat can vary slightly from person to person, but in adult bison it is predominantly pale brown to brown. The darkest are the sides of the head and the lower part of the legs. The hair around the muzzle and eyes is short and straight. Above the bare nasal field there is usually a narrow light gray stripe.
On the front part of the body, the guiding and guard hairs are elongated and form a mane along the throat and front chest. The forehead hairs are moderately long at 20 centimeters. They fall forward and rest firmly on the forehead. The throat beard in adult bulls can be up to 34 centimeters long. The hair on the tail end is the longest. They can be up to 50 centimeters long and reach the ankle. The number of wool and guard hairs varies depending on the season and is highest during winter. The change to summer dress usually begins at the beginning of March. It is usually the older bulls who lose their head and neck hair first. When the hair changes, the detached undercoat pushes itself in clumps along the awns and hangs on the fur until it is stripped off by the bison. The hair change takes an average of 138 days in the bulls, while it can take 183 days in the cows.
Calves are reddish brown immediately after birth. Only when they change their coat for the first time in the third or fourth month of life do they have a similar coat color to adult animals.
Sensory performance and locomotion
The vision of bison is not particularly well developed, but their sense of smell is well developed. For example, dispersed members of a herd find their way back to her by following the tracks of the herd members. Similarly, a bull follows a herd of cows by sniffing the cows' tracks.
European bison can gallop relatively quickly and reach speeds of up to 60 km / h in a sprint. However, you can only maintain such a high speed for less than 100 meters and then usually have to pause, breathing heavily. More typical for them is walking slowly, whereby the body weight is only shifted to the front leg when it is firmly on the ground; the stride length is about 75 to 115 centimeters. However, they are so agile and skillful that they can jump over obstacles up to two meters high and trenches three meters wide.
The original distribution of the bison covered a large part of the European continent. In prehistoric and early historical times its distribution area reached from the north of the Iberian Peninsula across Central Europe and the south of the Scandinavian Peninsula to the Baltic States ; from the Riga Bay the distribution limit ran southeast to the Black Sea and the Caucasus. The distribution reached in the Caucasus from sea level to an altitude of 2100 meters. In the south, the occurrence probably reached in the Holocene (the post-ice age / modern era) as far as northern Iran, in Europe as far as Greece and Turkey . In the north the wisent reached Finland and the Novgorod region. Raschīd ad-Dīn reports in his historical work that Abaqa , Ilchan of Persia hunted "mountain buffalo" in the woods near Shahrud in 1275/76, that is in the Elburs Mountains southeast of the Caspian Sea . That makes an occurrence in historical time up to the Caspian Sea and Koh-i-Elburz in Afghanistan at least seem conceivable.
The bison habitat began to shrink around 6000 years ago during the Neolithic . The transition from hunter-gatherer cultures to sedentary farmers, which began in the Neolithic, was accompanied by increasing human use and deforestation. More and more crops were grown in clearings and cleared areas and the forest was used as pasture for pets. As a result of this increasing reclamation and use of the forests, the bison was extinct in large parts of France as early as the 8th century. In what is now Germany, the bison disappeared between the 14th and 16th centuries. At the beginning of the 18th century there were still so many bison in East Prussia that several bisons were fought against bears and wolves in the Königsberg Hetztheater on the occasion of Frederick I's coronation celebrations in January 1701. The last free-living East Prussian bison was shot by a poacher in the Tapiau Forest in 1755. Wild bison still existed in Romania at the end of the 18th century.
In the area of what is now Poland, bison were already rare in the 11th century, but remaining stocks could be found in larger forest areas where they were protected as royal game. The forest of Białowieża was of particular importance for the preservation of the bison . In the Middle Ages, this remote region in the border area between today's Poland and Belarus was a privileged hunting ground for the Polish kings. Wisents were only allowed to be hunted here with special permission from the Polish ruler. From 1795 the area was under strict protection by the Russian tsar. Although the area was used as a Hudewald forest , poaching was punishable by death and from 1803 logging was prohibited in large parts of the forest. The bison population was counted annually from 1832 until the end of the First World War . It reached its maximum in 1857 with 1900 bisons. After that, two epizooties in 1890 and 1910 led to a decline in the population. At the beginning of 1915 there were still about 770 bison living in this area. In autumn 1917 there were only 150 animals left. Immediately after the end of the First World War, most animals fell victim to marauding soldiers and poachers. The remains of a poached bison and tracks from four other animals were last found on April 4, 1919. However, since bison were repeatedly caught from bison stocks in this area during the 19th century and given away to zoos and enclosures, it was possible to fall back on these descendants of Białowieża bison when efforts were made to preserve the species in the 1920s. The so-called Pleß line goes back, for example, to a bull and four cows that were given to the Prince of Pleß in 1865 and with whom they were bred in the Pleßer forests for several decades. The bull Plisch with the stud book number 229, which was brought back to Białowieża from Pleß in 1936, is of great importance in today's conservation breeding. Almost all the bison currently living in the Białowieża jungle are descended from him.
As early as the 17th century it was known in Central Europe that there were bison stocks in the Caucasus . It was not until the 19th century that naturalists such as Alexander von Nordmann and Gustav Radde collected more details about the wild cattle living there during their research trips. The distribution area of the Caucasus bison was the northern slope of the Caucasus massif and its foothills. On the south side of the mountain range, bison were found only in the west up to the Abkhazian border . In the 19th century, about 2,000 individuals lived on the Caucasian bison . The stocks declined more and more due to the Great Caucasus War and increasing human settlement in the distribution area. In the 1890s, only 442 Caucasian bison existed, which were placed under protection by the Russian tsar . After an epizootic was introduced by domestic cattle in 1919, the number of animals decreased to 50 individuals. The last wild Caucasian bison was killed in 1927. A bull of this type with the name Caucasus and stud book number 100 played an important role in the conservation breeding of the bison. It was crossed with lowland wisemen and thus established the lowland-Caucasus line .
European bison were reintroduced in 1952 in the Polish part and in 1953 in the Belarusian part of Białowieża. In 2004 there were 29 free and two semi-free populations in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania and Slovakia. Since the 1980s, a small population of the lowland wisent has been living in the Russian Altai Mountains, but it is increasingly suffering from inbreeding.
In June 1940, five bison from a Caucasian hybrid line bred in the Soviet Union ( B. b. Bonasus × B. b. Caucasicus × B. bison ) were reintroduced in the West Caucasus. By 1985 these bison hybrids had recaptured 140,000 hectares of mountain forests and alpine meadows. With almost 1,400 animals, the population of the Kavkazsky Reserve in the northern West Caucasus has become the largest bison population in the world. Due to the turmoil during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the population decreased from 1400 animals to 240 animals. The almost 300,000 hectare Caucasus nature reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The number of bison on the highland line living in the wild increased by around ten percent to 540 in 2010.
Release into the Chernobyl exclusion zone from 1998
After it had been established that other wild animals were reproducing in the Chernobyl exclusion zone , it was decided in 1998 to release bison there as well. After initial difficulties, there are now three herds in the Belarusian part of the Chernobyl exclusion zone with a total of 93 animals (as of 2012) on the lowland line, which are slowly multiplying.
Release in Slovakia in 2004
On December 10, 2004 as part of were Large Herbivore Network -Project five bison, three cows and two bulls, the Slovak National Park Poloniny reintroduced . Two weeks later, a wild bull from the directly adjacent Polish Bieszczady National Park joined the herd. (Together with the Ukrainian Ush National Park, both national parks form the Eastern Carpathian Biosphere Reserve .) In October 2005 another cow and a bull were released, in September 2006 two cows. The first free-range birth of a bison calf took place on July 14, 2006. The number of bison has grown to 17 over the years, consisting of a herd of 15 and two solitary bulls (as of 2013).
Release in Romania in 2012
On March 22, 2012 as part of were Rewilding-Europe -Project five bison in the Natural Park Vânători-Neamţ in North Eastern Romania ( county Neamt ) reintroduced . Another five animals were released into the wild in 2013.
Release in Germany in 2013
As part of the bison project in the Rothaar Mountains , an eight-headed herd consisting of one bull, five cows and two young animals was released into the wild on April 11, 2013 in the Siegen-Wittgenstein district . In December 2019, the herd had grown to around 25 animals. The herd had lived on site in an 80 hectare reintroduction enclosure since March 2010. The scientific and legal requirements for reintroduction, the fulfillment of which was checked during this time, included, among other things, that natural escape behavior and a natural escape distance had to be achieved. At the end of December 2012, the State Ministry for the Environment in Düsseldorf then granted permission to release them into the wild. For a transition period of two to five years, the herd was equipped with GPS transmitters for tracking purposes. All animals in the herd belong to the lowland-Caucasus line .
In May and June 2013, the first two bison for centuries were born in the wild in this herd in Germany. The herd is less hidden than expected and has been observed by hikers several times in the first few weeks after it was released. In 2017 the bison were filmed crossing a snow-covered road. In December 2017 there was a collision with slight body damage. In 2019, a compromise was reached with the forest owners. For example, a fence that is permeable to other animals is intended to limit the herd's habitat to an area of 1500 hectares for an initial three to five years.
The number of bison living in the wild in Germany is currently 25 following further births and losses (as of December 2019).
Except in the Rothaargebirge, bison are currently used to living in near-natural conditions in the core wilderness zone of the Döberitzer Heide . In the wilderness core zone, which covers an area of around 2000 ha, the animals should live under almost wild conditions. However, the animals are extensively fenced in there.
Discussed further resettlement projects
Swiss conservationists and zoologists working with Christian Stauffer, former head of the Zurich Wilderness Park , are discussing the reintroduction of bison in the Jura , more precisely in the Thal Nature Park - there and in its vicinity is one of the largest contiguous forest areas in Switzerland, namely the northern slope of the Weissenstein range . The region itself hopes that this will make it more attractive to tourists. In June 2020 it was announced that a site near the Sollmatt in Welschenrohr had been selected for this project . The main criterion was that the area should be as large as possible and belong to as few landowners as possible. In a 1 km² enclosure with both open and wooded areas, five to ten animals will initially live to acclimatize until they are released. The lead cow is equipped with a transmitter collar ; the fence will be permeable for deer and other forest animals. Existing hiking trails will also lead through the fenced area.
Resettlement projects for the lowland wisent are currently underway or in preparation in some European countries, for example in the Netherlands ( Veluwe and Maashorst ), in Denmark ( Almindingen on Bornholm ) and in France ( Monts d'Azur on the edge of the Maritime Alps ), as well as in Azerbaijan ( Shahdag National Park ).
The reintroduction of bison (as well as red deer and wild horses ) is also under discussion for the Borkenberge nature reserve near Haltern . It is a former British military training area of about 20 km², with a barren sandy bottom. It should be accessible to visitors and can be viewed from observation towers. It is hoped - in addition to the tourist attraction - that the large mammals will prevent the landscape from being completely covered with bushes and restore a natural species composition.
In 2017, WWF Germany proposed ten areas as part of a study that are particularly suitable as habitats for bison. The four most important of these are the Spreewald and its surroundings, the Müritz , the Harz and the Palatinate Forest . It is still unclear whether the animals will be reintroduced there in a targeted manner or whether one will simply wait until they immigrate from the east by themselves.
Immigration to Germany in 2017
On September 13, 2017, for the first time since the species became extinct in Germany, a bison immigrated from Poland via the Oder . Two hours after it was discovered on a dike near Lebus in the floodplain, the wild animal was chased and shot by two local hunters after they had obtained a telephone order from the Lebus official to be shot on allegedly imminent danger to life and limb. The head was cut off as a hunting trophy and taken to a taxidermist the following day. The bull had previously roamed western Poland for several years without an accident. Several private individuals and associations - including the WWF - are filing criminal charges against the people involved because of an alleged violation of the Federal Hunting Act . The investigation against the head of the public order office was discontinued in June 2018.
The bisons' preferred habitat are open and semi-open pastures , which they can create themselves from the perspective of the mega-herbivore hypothesis . Extensive forests, in which the bison last appeared before its extinction in the wild, only represent a substitute habitat. Where bisons live in forests, they prefer deciduous and mixed forests with a pronounced mosaic of vegetation structures of different densities. Pure coniferous forests are rarely visited, but mixed forests are given preference over pure deciduous forests. Wisents show a preference for alder forests . In the Białowieża Forest, which is not only home to the oldest herds of free-living bison, but is also the most pristine and least man-made forest in Central Europe, dead trees make up around 20 percent of the total wood mass. This means that the forest is much lighter than central European commercial forests. Accordingly, a thicker herb layer can develop. The seasonal development of the herbaceous layer in Białowieża shapes the animals' usage behavior: In spring, for example, bison tend to be in deciduous forests, where the herbaceous layer develops the earliest. From the end of May they prefer to use fresh mixed forests, where the herbaceous layer develops later and is in full bloom in June and July. The area of a group of bison is about 4600 to 5600 hectares. However, the territories of individual groups can largely overlap. The bison is very tolerant of boreal climates , and it is assumed that the northern limit of distribution during modern times was mainly determined by anthropogenic influences. A herd that has lived in the Vologda Oblast at about 60 ° N since the 1990s can manage completely without winter feeding.
The bison is a typical processor of roughage (vegetable food with silicate deposits). This distinguishes it from the red deer , which represents the so-called intermediate type, and from the deer , which, as a so-called selector, only eats energy-dense plant species and parts. The three species are therefore not competitors for food resources. The literature on the daily food requirements of an adult bison range from 30 to 60 kilograms.
During the vegetation season, bison tend to graze the herbaceous layer, and regardless of the type of forest, this is the main source of food. Young leaves and shoots are also regularly eaten, but this always makes up a small part of the diet. Tree bark is peeled off and eaten, especially towards the end of winter. In populations that do not receive hay in winter - such as the bison living in the wild in the Central Caucasus - blackberry bushes and herbaceous vegetation scraped free under the snow represent the main part of the diet. Here, too, the proportion of tree bark in the diet increases significantly when the Snow cover is higher.
In Białowieża a total of 137 plant species have been identified that play a role in the bison diet. These include forest sedge , forest sedge and hairy sedge , ground elder , great nettle , woolly buttercup and cabbage thistle . Shoots and young leaves are particularly eaten by hornbeam , willow , ash and raspberry . The tree bark of English oak , hornbeam, ash and spruce plays a role in winter. Acorns and beechnuts are also picked up in autumn.
Bison are herd animals. Only older bulls live mostly solitary, while young bulls usually form small groups. The typical bison herd is, however, a mixed group consisting of cows, two to three year old young animals, calves and, during the rutting season, also adult bulls. The group composition is rarely stable over a long period of time. Herd mixes when they meet, and when they separate again, some of the group members are often exchanged. A herd is led by a lead cow. Age is a determining factor for rank, with individual cows sometimes holding their position for several years, as we know from studies on free-ranging herds. Bulls that join the herds during the breeding season do not affect the group hierarchy. Their presence is only for reproduction.
Wisents usually keep a distance of two to three meters from each other. If this distance is not reached by a lower-ranking animal, for example when passing a narrow passage, the higher-ranking animal can react aggressively. However, fights are extremely rare.
Studies on the way of life of the bison are only available for animals that are fed at least temporarily. The herds of bison that live in the wild in the Białowieża jungle are fed with hay during winter, and when the snow depths the animals do not eat any other food.
Annual cycle in the Białowieża National Park
The mating season of the bison falls from August to October. Adult bulls join the herds from August. The bulls then do not tolerate any rivals in the vicinity of their herd and young animals also stay a little away from the cow herds during this time. During these months, bison also build up energy reserves for the winter, where they eat mushrooms such as honey mushrooms and large quantities of nettles. In the Białowieża National Park, the bison herds are gradually beginning to approach the winter conditions where they are traditionally fed with hay. From November they stay in the immediate vicinity of these feeding places and only migrate to closer areas in search of green plants when the snow cover is not yet closed. Old bulls are usually the last bison to come to the feeding stations. The concentration around the feeding stations lasts until March. The winter groupings only break up in April. The bison move further and further away from the feeding places and look for the first green plants, especially in oak and hornbeam forests. The wood anemone is one of the essential food plants at this time . As soon as the leaves sprout, the bison also eat the fresh shoots. The period from May to July is the setting time and the rearing of the calves. Wisents then roam the area very widely. On average, however, they do not cover more than five kilometers a day and stay in places with plenty of food for several days. During the hikes, the lead cow always takes the position at the head of the group. The other bisons follow her walking close together. Young orgies and older calves usually stay in the group. If an adult bull accompanies the herd, he usually leaves at the end.
As is typical for ruminants, the daily rhythm is determined by several phases of grazing and resting. The length of a single grazing phase is very variable and can last from 15 minutes to five hours. During the vegetation phase, bison in the Polish part of the national park spend around 60 percent of their time with grazing, while in the Belarusian part an average of 80 percent. This difference is attributed to the different food supply. The first grazing phase begins at sunrise, the last takes place at dusk. In the bison examined in the Białowieża National Park, two further grazing phases can be observed during the day. Length and timing depend on the weather, the nuisance from insects, the quality of the food supply and the disturbance by people. In the Belarusian part of the national park, which offers the animals a less good food base, the bison also graze at night. Even in the Polish part of the national park, bison postpone their grazing phase in the evening and night hours when the daytime temperature is high and rest during the day.
In winter the relationship between grazing and resting phases is reversed. They then spend about 30 percent of their time eating hay. They rest 60 percent of the day.
Sexual maturity and fertility
Bulls usually breed between the ages of six and twelve. Neither younger nor older bulls can prevail in the territorial fights against their male conspecifics. However, even older bulls are still reproductive active in enclosure conditions. Free-range cows usually give birth to their first calf when they are four years old. They remain fertile into old age. Cows that are still giving birth at the age of 20 are not uncommon in free husbandry. In natural circumstances, the cows calve on average every two years. Many cows also throw annually in enclosures where the feed is abundantly available all year round.
Bison have a polygynous mating system: one bull mates with several cows. As a rule, the harems consist of two to six cows ready to mate. The rutting symptoms in the females are not very noticeable. The cows are just a little more restless. Bulls, on the other hand, are much more aggressive and, for example, also drive away small birds that are looking for insects nearby. Calves are also occasionally attacked by them.
Most mating acts take place between August and October. Rutting fights between bulls are relatively rare, for example when compared to red deer . If two bulls of similar size and strength meet, the fight is preceded by ritualized behavior, in which the high state of excitement of the bulls, among other things, by digging in the ground with their claws, rolling in places that they have previously soaked with urine, or working on trees with the horns. In the main phase of the fight, the cops stand facing each other with their heads, attack each other with their horns at short intervals and try to push themselves across the battlefield. The fight usually ends when either bull gives up. Occasionally the fights end with injuries to the cops involved or even fatally.
Typical behavior of the bulls during the rutting season includes sniffing the cows' external genitals. During this so-called flehmen , the bull lifts his head, stretches his neck and pulls his lips apart. The bull checks the concentration of sex hormones in the urine of the cows in order to assess their willingness to mate. A cow that is in rutting is accompanied by the bull almost continuously for a day or two. He repeatedly begs or licks and sniffs her pubic area. The bull's high state of excitement is expressed through behavior that is similar to what happened shortly before a fight with another bull. You can often hear gnarling calls from them. During the rutting season, bulls eat relatively seldom and lose a lot of weight during this time.
Gestation time, birth and life expectancy
The cows usually only carry single calves, which are mostly born between May and July. The wearing time is on average about 264 days. Due to the small size of the calves and the body structure of the cows, signs of pregnancy are only weakly visible in the cows.
Pregnant cows separate from the herd before giving birth and seek sheltered places to give birth there. The birth process is relatively quick and usually runs without complications. The calves, which have a birth weight of only 25 to 30 kilograms, are born within one to two hours. The calf starts trying to get up just a few minutes after birth. Most of the time it can stand still after 30 minutes. The cows and their calves rejoin the herd a few days after birth. In contrast to many other ungulates, the calf is not laid down in hiding after suckling, but remains in the immediate vicinity of the suckler cow. Up to the age of three months, mother's milk is the main food of the calves. When suckling, the calf stands parallel to the mother's body. From three months on, plant food plays an increasing role in his diet. From this point on, it is increasingly less in the immediate vicinity of the mother, but is more often socialized with peers.
Wisent cows only reach the age of 25 in exceptional cases. Bulls rarely get older than 20 years.
Causes of Death and Diseases
Only wolves and lynx are of significance as predators today . As a large herd of game, the bison is difficult to capture for these species. Calves are most likely to be killed. Małgorzata and Zbigniew Krasiński assume that an increasing wolf population has no significant influence on the bison population. In the Polish part of the Białowieża Primeval Forest, injuries, old age, infestation by parasites such as lungworms and poaching are the most common causes of death. Stock Threatening to infectious diseases such as to foot-and-mouth disease , wild and mad cow disease and bovine tuberculosis impact. European bison are particularly at risk of contracting the foot-and-mouth disease virus. In 1953 and 1954, 35 bison died of this disease in Polish reserves.
The low genetic diversity of the bison currently living is considered to be the greatest threat to the long-term survival of this species. Inbreeding depression can lead to an increased incidence of genetic defects and a weakened immune system. Perhaps the increasingly identified in the examined bison bulls are able abnormalities of the testes , Hodenhypoplasien and epididymis - cysts on such genetic causes due.
There is also an increased foreskin inflammation, the so-called balanoposthitis . It leads to necrotic-purulent changes in the foreskin and penis and, in an advanced stage, to an adhesion of the foreskin opening with urinary fistula formation and, in rare cases, urinary retention and uremia . The disease is caused by a number of types of bacteria that implant themselves in the tissue in several phases; the transmission routes are not yet known. The disease, for which a population in Ukraine has already been disbanded and a number of bulls have been deliberately shot in the Białowieża jungle, occurs occasionally in calves and is obviously not only sexually transmitted.
Internal systematics of the actual cattle according to Hassanin et al. 2004
The Wisent belongs to the order of the cloven-hoofed animals , within this order Wisente are the family of the Bovidae assigned that comprises about 280 species after a revision from 2011 on. Originally the bison was in the genus Bison (the late Latin word bison is probably a borrowing of the Germanic word wisund ), today it is referred to the genus Bos based on the results of molecular genetic studies . In older literature it is still discussed that the American bison and the European bison belong to one species. Analyzes of the DNA showed, however, that bison and bison differ genetically in some cases greatly from one another, although both forms can be crossed with one another without restriction. While bison and wisent have a strong similarity in the paternally inherited Y chromosomes , there are considerable differences in the sequence of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA . In terms of mitochondrial DNA, the American bison forms a unit with the yak , while the bison is the same as the aurochs. A possible explanation for this would be that prehistoric bison bulls once crossed with relatives of the aurochs or their ancestors and thus gave birth to the ancestors of the bison, which according to this hypothesis is a hybrid species. Overall, these studies show that the genera Bos and Bison are paraphyletic , they were thus merged into a single genus Bos .
Sometimes two to three recent subspecies are distinguished in the literature. Of these, however, only the nominate form Bos bonasus is generally recognized. In historical times, their distribution area encompassed the forest areas of western, central and partly south-eastern Europe up to the Don . The representatives of the typical bison are slightly larger than the other forms and have elongated claws. The bison was exterminated in the wild in the early 20th century and only survived through breeding programs. These included the so-called flatland line , which is based on seven bison kept in zoological gardens. Today it represents the only pure-blooded breeding line of bison. Most of the bison living in Poland and Belarus belong to this group. In the case of the lowland wisent, breeding means only reproduction in order to save the species, but not the development of special characteristics and properties as in domestic animal breeding. Care is only taken to keep inbreeding depression as low as possible.
Occasionally the Caucasian bison or mountain bison ( B. caucasicus ) was considered a subspecies of the actual bison and was then listed as Bos bonasus caucasicus , but the 2011 revision of the horned bison sees it as a separate species. In the Caucasian bison, unlike the actual bison, the tail hairs of the tail are curled. The species became extinct in the wild in the mid-1920s. However, a bull named Caucasus has found its way into the second breeding line of bison, the so-called lowland-Caucasus line . As a result, the genetic diversity is greater in her than in the pure flatland line. The majority of the bison living in Germany come from the lowland-Caucasus line.
As a third subspecies, some authors list the "Carpathian Wisent " ( B. b. Hungarorum ). The description that Miklós Kretzoi carried out in 1946 was based on a complete skeleton of a cow that no longer had horns and a partial skull of a bull with a complete horn. The shape differs in the general size, the shape of the horns and the lower position of the shoulder height compared to the pelvis height from the other bison. The found material was in the collection of the National Museum in Budapest, but was lost during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. The form was native to Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. It was exterminated as early as 1790.
In addition, a population of hybrids of bison and bison lives in the Central Caucasus , the so-called highland line , which is the third breeding line of bison. It was founded in the early 1930s from descendants of the lowland line, the lowland-Caucasus line and three American bison ( B. bonasus × B. caucasicus × B. bison ). In 2000 it was proposed to introduce this hybrid line as a new subspecies with the scientific name Bos bonasus montanus . Some consider this to be premature, as different specimens of the hybrid herds contain different proportions of the species and an alleged adaptation of the line to the mountain habitat could not be proven. It is also claimed that the hybrids have a detrimental effect on the vegetation of this area and that they pose a threat to pure bison populations occurring in the vicinity. Originally it was planned to introduce the hybrids to purebred bison through displacement breeding, in that only such should be used as breeding bulls. However, this project was not implemented due to practical obstacles.
Closer relationship of the bison including fossil representatives according to Palacio et al. 2017
Early bison or wisent-like forms, including Leptobos , Protobison and Probison , appeared towards the end of the Neogene in the Pliocene ( Villafranchian ) in South and East Asia. These early forms also colonized other areas of Eurasia and reached the North American continent via the Bering Strait . Fossil remains of animals that were much closer to today's bison date back to the early Pleistocene, so they are between one and two million years old. Numerous bison or wisent-like representatives from Eurasia and North America are documented (the so-called Great Bison belt ), especially from the Middle and Young Pleistocene . Their best known is the steppe bison ( Bos priscus ), which had much more powerful horns than the bison and, from an anatomical point of view, belongs to the ancestral line of the American bison ( Bos bison ). In contrast to this, almost no fossil material is known of the actual bison (similar to the American bison), the species appeared relatively suddenly at the beginning of the Holocene in northern Central Europe and Scandinavia . Originally it was assumed that with the end of the last ice age and the melting of the glaciers as well as the expansion of the forests, which led to a reduction in suitable habitat, the widespread population of bison and wisent-like cattle split up into individual subpopulations, including the bison formed by reducing the horn size. Molecular genetic studies from 2016, which were carried out on more than 60 individuals of the extinct steppe bison and today's bison, see this scenario in a more differentiated manner. Accordingly, in the end of the Pleistocene, in addition to the steppe bison and the fossil aurochs ( Bos primigenius ), another, so far only genetically identifiable form of cattle lived in western Eurasia, but which was closer to the bison. According to the genetic data, this emerged from a hybridization of the two Pleistocene cattle species, which took place around 120,000 years ago, around the time of the last interglacial . It is assumed that the hybrid formation occurred through the mating of male steppe bison with female aurochs. The resulting line, provisionally designated as CladeX (" Klade X"), is viewed by researchers as the forerunner of today's bison. As a further result of the study, the members of the CladeX line occupied an ecological niche that deviated from the steppe bison and were particularly frequent during the cold climatic sections of the last glacial period with dominance of tundra-like landscapes, while the steppe bison was limited to the warmer sections. According to further studies, the CladeX could be identical to the extinct Schoetensack bison ( Bos schoetensacki ), which, according to genetic data, is significantly closer to the bison than the steppe bison and was present in fossil form in Europe until the Glacial Vistula . The result goes hand in hand with the realization that the steppe bison also has a very close relationship with the American bison from a genetic point of view.
Man and bison
The bison in art and literature
Bison already appeared in Upper Palaeolithic art and was often depicted next to mammoths, wild horses and lions. In mobile cabaret, a fragmented, palm-sized sculpture of a bison (length 7.2 cm, height 5.25 cm) made of mammoth ivory, which was discovered in 1931 during archaeological excavations in the Vogelherd cave ( Swabian Alb ), is of importance. It comes from the Aurignacien and is now exhibited in the Museum of Ancient Cultures in Hohentübingen Castle . Another half-sculpture is from the Geißenklösterle near Blaubeuren and also dates to the early Upper Palaeolithic. On the other hand, engravings of bison can be found in the Magdalenian , for example of three animals, two of them in a fighting position, on a 33 cm long horse rib from the Pekárna cave near Brno .
Wisents are more frequently represented on cave paintings in southwestern Europe, according to investigations of around 1660 murals alone 17.5% can be assigned to the bison. Among the oldest are the realistic representations from the Chauvet cave , which, with an age of around 32,000 years, also belong to the Aurignacia. Along with wild horses, bison are the most frequently depicted animal species on 15,000-year-old wall paintings. The best known are the depictions in the Altamira cave in Spain and depictions in caves in the Dordogne department in southwest France. One of the most beautiful representations is a reindeer horn sculpture found in the La Madeileine cave in 1910 . It shows a bison licking its points with its head turned back.
Although the bison was extinct in the Mediterranean area before human history began, both Greeks and Romans were familiar with this species because of its distribution in Thrace and Germania . Wisents were among other things from 27 BC. Brought to Rome to show them in animal rushes . Pliny the Elder , however, described the bison as a cattle with a horse's mane with horns so short that they are of no use in combat. Instead of fighting, the bison run away from any threat, continuously leaving a trail of dung for half a mile that, if touched, burns a pursuer's skin like fire.
The bison was occasionally described in medieval literature. In the Nibelungenlied, for example, the voice of Dietrich von Bern is compared with the sound of the horn of a bison and it is reported from a hunt by Siegfried that, in addition to four aurochs and an elk, he also killed a bison. In the late medieval and early modern literature, a clear distinction is not always made between aurochs and bison, since with the increasing disappearance of the aurochs its name was also used for the bison. The first literary work of Polish literature, for example relating to security on the European Bison, is a remained anonymous poem from the 16th century, as a commission for Pope Leo X was born. In this poem, however, the bison is referred to as the aurochs. It was not until the 19th century that the German language separated the two species of cattle again with the boom in zoology .
While the bison is mentioned in some modern hunting stories in German-language literature, this species plays a larger role in Polish literature and art. In the Polish national epic Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz , published in 1834, the bison is mentioned in several verses. Polish painters of the 19th century such as Juliusz Kossak and Michał Elwiro Andriolli depicted this species of wild cattle in their paintings. There are also several monuments and sculptures in Poland that commemorate the hunts of Polish and Russian rulers. At the same time, comparable sculptures were created in Germany, such as the one shown by August Gaul . During the time of National Socialism , Reichsjägermeister Hermann Göring awarded corresponding commissioned work. In this time, the in going Bremen Rhododendron Park located bison statue of Ernst Gorsemann and the bison relief of Max Esser back that near the Schorfheide is.
The Polish ornithologist and deputy director of the Zoological Museum in Warsaw, Jan Sztolcman , in a speech on June 2, 1923, urged those who had gathered on the occasion of the International Nature Conservation Congress in Paris to make efforts to preserve the bison. The congress then suggested the establishment of an international society in which representatives of the countries in whose territory bison were still located should work together. Almost three months later, on August 25 and 26, 1923, the International Society for the Conservation of Bison was founded in Berlin. The society, whose first chairman was the Frankfurt zoo director Kurt Priemel , was joined by a number of private individuals, including the American Bison Society , the Poznan Zoo and the Polish Hunters Association. The primary goal of the society was to locate all bison kept in enclosures and zoos and to establish conservation breeding with them. A total of 29 bison bulls and 25 cows were found, which in turn were closely related and the descendants of only twelve animals. Ultimately, therefore, all bisons living today are descended from only twelve animals, seven cows and five bulls.
As it was feared that the species would not be preserved due to the low number of purebred bison, some zoos crossed bison with other species in the 1920s and 1930s. For example , a bison bull was mated with several bison cows in the Springe bison enclosure , which was set up in 1928 under the guidance of Lutz Heck , the director of the Berlin zoo . The aim was to breed out the bison hereditary plants through backcrossing in the medium term in the form of displacement breeding. This attempt was not stopped until 1935 when it was possible to acquire pure-bred bison cows. Białowieża also kept bison-bison hybrids for a while. The last of these mixed breeds was housed in the Warsaw Zoo in 1936 .
After the first successes in breeding in the 1920s and 1930s, the consequences of the Second World War again led to a sharp decline in the bison populations. In Białowieża, the most important center of conservation breeding, the extinction of the bison population through poaching was avoided by opening the gates and driving the animals into the large forest area in July 1944, when the German troops withdrew from the region in front of the approaching Russian. The Polish authorities created after the end of the war immediately took extensive measures to put the bison under protection again. As early as 1946, some bisons from the Polish population could be given away for the start of bison breeding in the Belarusian part of Białowieża. In 1949 there were a total of 69 pure-blooded bison living in four Polish and two Soviet breeding establishments, which was a little over half of the world's population.
The breeding book for bison is considered to be the oldest breeding book for a wild animal species and has taken into account the three breeding lines that are still in existence today, the Pless, Plain and Plain-Caucasus Line. Until 1940 the wisent breeding book was kept by the zoo director Goerd von der Groeben, then by Erna Mohr , who already had a large share in the maintenance of the Przewalski horse . After the Second World War, the Warsaw zoo director Jan Żabiński (1897–1974) continued in collaboration with Erna Mohr, the first aim of which was to re-verify the ancestral lines of the bison surviving after the Second World War. Today the stud book is kept in Białowieża.
Current inventory and goals of inventory development
In 2006 there were about 3200 pure-blooded bison in the stud book. Of these, around 420 were held in Germany, 26 in Switzerland and 13 in Austria. Around 60 percent of the world's population lived in wild populations in 2004.
The current focus of bison breeding is to improve the cooperation between breeding facilities and breeders. For example, there has been a European conservation breeding program since 1996 that coordinates the breeding of bison kept in captivity across all zoos.
Another goal is the establishment of further wild bison populations, whereby two aspects play a special role: bisons in free populations are able to regain the characteristics of their wild ancestors under the conditions of natural selection. Because of the high costs of keeping the bison, it is only possible to increase the bison population through reintroduction. For a number of years, attempts have been made to settle bison in areas where the respective population can reach a demographically necessary minimum size of 100 animals. Resettlements in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Belarusian-Ukrainian border area initially failed, but there are now several herds there. Furthermore, a herd in the southern Chernivtsi - Vinnytsia area shows a stable population of just under 100 animals. In 2011, 80 animals living in the wild were counted in the Borker Horst near Olsztyn (German: Allenstein in East Prussia ). The ancestors of these animals come from an offspring and escaped from the enclosure a long time ago.
A coordination program should ensure that the genetic diversity of the existing free populations is preserved and, if possible, increased. For this purpose, bison should be transferred between the individual free populations if necessary. The long-term goal is that there are 3,000 wild animals from both the lowland line and the lowland-Caucasus line. There are plans for reintroduction into the wild for Germany and France, among others, although the first reintroductions have already taken place in Germany.
European bison in grazing and landscape maintenance
If a bog is drained and used for arable farming, it can lead to a significant lowering of the terrain level and to significant soil erosion due to wind erosion . In the old Bavarian Donaumoos , for example , a large area of around 3 meters of peat has been lost over the past 200 years . To stop this development, the proportion of grassland is to be increased to over 50% by 2030. Sustainable use should primarily take place through grazing . For this purpose, the suitability of various farm animal breeds is tested. In 2003, a 25- hectare bison enclosure was put into operation, in which around 30 animals live today.
Interactions between bison and humans
Incidents in which humans have been attacked by bison are very rare and, as a rule, such incidents involved bison, which were used to human beings due to the confinement. In enclosures like Damerower Werder , stunning guns are used to protect the people involved when bison have to be separated from the herd. Wild bison that are surprised by humans in the forest generally react by fleeing. Usually they move away 100 to 150 meters at a fast run and then gather together. Herds with several young animals are the most shy. Potentially dangerous situations for humans arise when the animals are surprised and the escape distance has already been fallen short of. In particular, cows that lead young animals and bulls during the rutting season can react aggressively towards humans if the escape distance is not reached. Here the bison does not differ from other wild animal species. Since bisons are watchful animals, such situations only occur in exceptional cases. The literature tends to point out how difficult it is to observe bison in the wild. Bison signal their excitement by shaking their heads, threatening knobs, digging up the ground with their front claws and violent tail movements. If the person does not withdraw then he can be attacked by the bison.
Conflicts between bison and humans arise when bison attack agricultural areas or break open haystacks. The experience in Poland has been that even resettling the animals is ineffective as they return to such food-rich places. In the area of the Białowieża primeval forest, horses were injured eleven times and domestic cattle five times by bison over a period of almost 40 years . The injuries mostly result from a single blow of the horn from an adult bull against a pet seeking social contact. Dogs are usually ignored. Bison, which feels threatened by dogs, can take them by the horns or trample them.
Apart from the poaching after the end of the First World War, the hunt for the bison in modern times was mainly carried out as an elaborately staged court hunt. During these so-called "discontinued hunts", bison were herded together with other large game over several weeks on an increasingly smaller area. On the actual day of the hunt, the game was directed by the drivers in such a way that it presented itself optimally for shooting. During the court hunt of the Polish King August III. In 1752 the courtly hunting party shot not only a large number of red deer, roe deer and wild boar but also 42 bison. Twenty bison were shot from pulpits by the Polish king and his wife Maria Josepha of Austria . Although at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries such forms of hunting became increasingly out of fashion in Europe and, against the backdrop of Romanticism, the hunting ethic increasingly emphasized humane hunting, the Russian court had such court hunts held in Białowieża until 1900. For Tsar Alexander II and his guests from the European aristocracy, 2000 farmers in forced labor drove the game together in a large enclosure for weeks. At the last court hunt organized by Tsar Nicholas II in the autumn of 1900, 40 bison were hunted in this way. During the time of the German occupation of the Białowieża area from the summer of 1915, the Commander-in-Chief of the 9th Army , Leopold of Bavaria , issued selected permits to shoot bison to “high-ranking personalities”, including Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Commander-in-Chief of the East , Paul von Hindenburg . Under the guidance of the responsible forester Georg Escherich , they each hunted down a "strong bison bull".
For some years now, forest and nature conservation authorities in Belarus, Russia, Poland and the Ukraine have released wild bison annually for commercial shooting. These are mostly overaged bulls and cows. Such hunts take place, for example, on the Belarusian side of Białowieża as well as in Mazury , the Ukrainian Carpathians and the Russian Caucasus. Drück- and stand hunting is prohibited, the released to shoot bison needs on a part of several days stalking are tracked by the hunters, until it comes to income. The hunt is considered extremely difficult because of the shy nature of the bison and requires a high level of physical fitness, especially in the Ukrainian Carpathians and in the Russian Caucasus because of the difficult terrain. At the beginning of the 21st century, around 5000 EUR had to be paid for the shooting permit on a capital bull. Critics of such practices see a contradiction in making it possible to hunt an endangered species. Proponents of hunting argue that if the capacity limits are exceeded and the population density is too high, the equilibrium of an ecosystem is disturbed and the risk of animal diseases increases significantly. The drastic decline in the previously too high bison population in Białowieża around 1890 as a result of an epizootic is often cited as an example. From the point of view of the proponents, regulated hunting contributes to the protection of a large animal species and its habitat, and the shooting bonuses at least partially finance the costs of managing a bison population.
Crossbreeding with domestic cattle
Until today it has not been possible to tame bison completely. Even bisons that come from populations that have not been kept free for several generations retain a distrust of humans. This experience also applies to the few hand-raised animals in the Białowieża Breeding Reserve.
Although in the times when the Białowieża Primeval Forest was still used as a hut forest , domestic cattle grazed near the bison, natural hybrid births are unknown. This distinguishes the bison from the bison, among other things, in which this occurs more frequently. The first documented cross between bison and domestic cattle was made in 1847 by the Polish landowner Leopold Walicke, who wanted to breed particularly strong migratory cattle. The hybrids, which are called Żubroń , exceed their original species in body weight and size. Male Żubrońs of the first generation are sterile , whereas females can reproduce with both parents. Żubrońs are characterized by a variety of colors in the hair and are considered tough and resistant. However, the breeding of Żubrońs has largely ceased today.
European organizations for the conservation of the bison
- European Bison Network (EBN)
- Bison Specialist Group - Europe (EBSG)
- European Bison Friends Society (EBFS)
- European Bison Conservation Center (EBCC)
- European Bison Advisory Center (EBAC)
- Comprehensive bibliography
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- Bison Specialist Group - Europe (EBSG) ( Memento from January 17, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
- The European Bison Friends Society (EBFS). ( Memento of the original from October 23, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.
- European Bison Conservation Center ( Memento from October 10, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
- European Bison Advisory Center (EBAC).