Weird Cow breeds: The Wisent - The beast of Europe


On this week’s weird cow breed we profile the mighty Wisent, the European bison.

Weird Cow breeds: The Wisent - The beast of Europe

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  • 10 mths ago

On this week’s weird cow breed we profile the mighty Wisent, the European bison.

While there are many bovine breeds which may be just as powerful as the Wisent, but few look quite as ferocious. The Wisent is the European equivalent of the North American bison.

The Wisent is also known as the European bison or the European Wood Bison, due to it frequenting wooded areas. Three subspecies of this bison had lived in the past, until their extinction. In fact the Wisent was hunted to extinction in the wild, until its reintroduction at a later date.

This breed came from the crossing of a Auroch cow and a Steppe bison bull. This hybrid cross is often referred to as the Higgs bison. There have been other suggestions that the breed may be an ancestor of the Pleistocene woodland bison.

The breed was hunted to extinction in the wild in the early stages of the 20th century. The last of the lowland dwelling subspecies, which was shot in 1921 in the Bialowieza Forest which is on the Belarusian/Polish border. Meanwhile a close relative which resided in North Western Europe was also hunted to extinction in 1927. The Lowland breed was kept going in captivity however and was later reintroduced to the wild. This happened in several countries across Europe, with the breed thriving since.

The breed was first documented by Carl Linnaeus, A Swedish Zoologist, Physician and zoologist, in 1758. The breed was hunted extensively, especially in the Middle Ages, for its horns and hide, leading to its extinction. The breed was also then classified as an endangered species in 1996, though that has now changed with it being upgraded to vulnerable.

Characteristics:
The European Bison is the heaviest of all surviving land animals on the continent. It has a lighter body mass but is taller size than it’s American relation. They also have shorter hair on their necks, heads and forequarters than the American breed but also have longer tail and horns.

A typical Bison is between 7ft and 11.5 ft in length, excluding the tail. The tail is usually between 12 to 31 inches. They are also between 5.2 and 6.4 ft tall, making them a real monster.

Calves at birth are generally small and weigh between 15 and 35kgs in weight. The average weight for adult bison is over 630kgs for the average male, with them having the potential to reach over 900kgs. Females meanwhile average at 424kgs and can reach up to 540kgs.

On occasion a big bull can reach weights of up to 1,000 kilograms, a real brute force of an animal. The species can also live up to 25 years in the wild. Their head is set at a slightly higher angle than the American Bison, and this means they tend to browse more from slightly higher foliage, and graze less from ground-level grasses.

Their colour, like their American cousins, tends to be dark brown to brown. They have thick fur on their hides, though not as long as the American breed. They usually have small horns coming out from the side of their heads, in an upward curve.

Habitat:
They used to reside in temperate, coniferous forests in Europe. As mentioned their numbers were dwindled down due to hunting and their natural habitats destroyed to make way for farms.

The animal has now been introduced into animal reserves across Europe in an attempt to build up numbers. There are plans to reintroduce the breed back into the Netherlands and Germany after its reintroduction to Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Romania, Russia, Latvia, Slovakia, Spain, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova.

Diet:
They prefer to eat in areas with vegetation of at least 20 years. They graze on grasses, this being a major part of their diet. They occasionally eat foliage such as bark in early Spring months.

During the summer males are known to eat up to 32kgs of food per day, with females consuming approximately 23kgs. They must drink water everyday and will search hard to find some.

Breeding and Gestation:
The Wisent breeds from August to October. Bulls tend to stay with the cow for at least a day before mating takes place, he will then stay close to prevent her returning back to the herd straight away and prevent other males approaching her.

Pregnancies last around 9 months in total, with calves usually born between May and July. Cows usually only have one calf, with the occasional twin. Calves when born are able to run almost instantly, this helps protect them from predators. They are weaned meanwhile between 7 and 12 months. Sexual maturity is reached between 3-4 years in both genders.

The Wisent was once a thing of folklore due to it’s extinction. But this sturdy, beast of a bovine is slowly making it’s way back to the previous heights it enjoyed.

Fewer more powerful bovines exist to this day, let’s hope the mighty Wisent continues it’s growth and that we see it becoming widespread through Europe, like in it’s glory days.

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