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wisent (vēˈsənt), name for the European bison, Bison bonasus. It is a close relative of the American bison, B. bison. Longer legged and less heavily built than its American cousin, the wisent may reach a height of 54 to 60 in. (137–152 cm) at the shoulder, and a weight of more than 1 ton (900 kg). It has brown hair and short upcurved horns. Its hump is less prominent than that of the American bison and its coat less shaggy. In the wild the wisent is a forest animal; it browses on leaves, ferns, and bark. Females give birth after a gestation period of 9 to 10 months, usually to a single calf.

Abundant in Europe in prehistoric times, wisents remained numerous until the early Christian era. Hunted for their meat and displaced from their habitats by farmers, by the 11th cent. they had been reduced to two herds numbering but a few hundred animals. By 1927 fewer than 50 remained. Since the foundation of an international protective society in 1932, their numbers have been growing, but they are no longer found outside zoos or forest reserves.

Wisents are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Bison bonasus; also the European bison), a European wild forest bison of the genus Bison of the family Cavicornia. The males, weighing between 700 and 900 kg (rarely up to 1.2 tons), are up to 3.5 m long. Their height at the withers is between 1.6 and 1.9 m. The females are smaller, weighing between 400 and 600 kg. They are various shades of brown in color. Long hair on the crown and lower neck forms a fringe, beard, and dewlap. The tail is short with a long, fluffy tassel. Females reach sexual maturity somewhat later than the males, at age three or four; they bear one calf each year. The wisent usually grazes in the morning and evening. During the winter it feeds on tree bark (for example, willow and aspen), as well as shoots and buds of trees and shrubs. In the summer it eats grass and leaves. The wisent is a herd animal; the bulls join the herds only during the mating season.

In the Middle Ages, wisents were prevalent throughout the forests of central Europe and in the western European part of the USSR. By the turn of the 20th century wild wisents were extant only in Russia; these included two subspecies—the plains, or Bialowieża, wisent in the Biatowieza Forest and the mountain, or Caucasian, wisent in the mountain forests of the northwestern Caucasus. Wisents became extinct in the Bialowieża Forest in 1919 and in the Caucasus in 1927, leaving only 48 wisents in the zoos of several countries.

In captivity Caucasian-Bialowieża wisents were bred from a Caucasian bull and a Biatowieza cow. Special nurseries were established to replenish the wisent population. By 1970 the number of wisents grew to 1,000, or approximately half the number in Russia before World War I (1914-18). Wisents are raised in 25 countries, including the United States and Canada, and most successfully in the USSR and Poland, where more than two-thirds of the world’s wisents—351 and 320 head, respectively (1970)—are located. New herds of wild wisents presently roam in the Biatowieza Forest, the Carpathians, and the Caucasus. The wild herd in the Soviet and Polish parts of the Bialowieża Forest consists of 241 Biatowieza wisents (1970); the Tseis reservation in Severnaia Osetiia ASSR is the home of 65 Caucasian-BiaJowieza wisents. Young wisents are raised in two nurseries in the Oka Bench (Priokso-terrasnyi) and Oka preserves (Moscow and Riazan oblasts of the RSFSR) and are subsequently released within their former range.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Key words: Alces alces, Bison bonasus, population, reintroduction, restoration, Ovibus moschatus, Russia.