Ecosystem and Species Management

Supporting European bison conservation

The wisent is the largest herbivore in Europe. It used to play a key role in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. By (re)introducing this native herbivore to Europe’s wilderness and wild nature areas it stimulates natural processes and contributes to the resilience of natural areas. In addition, large herbivores are food for large carnivores and scavengers, and together they help to complete ecosystems again.

During the early twenty-first century huge efforts have been successfully made to restore the almost gone extinct European version of the bison. With only twelve founder animals left, the total number of wisents is brought back to about 4200 animals, of which 2700 free-ranging (EBCC, 2010).

Now that the prior concern to safe the wisent from extinction is solved, others arise. For example, the free-ranging wisents only occur in small and scattered populations, they have low genetic diversity and in some places poaching is an important issue. This causes an unstable future perspective and the risk of extinction is still there today. For example, recent developments show a decrease of wisents in several regions of Ukraine since 1995, mainly due to poaching (Smagol & Gavris).

A distinction is made between two subspecies of the wisent, the Lowland line Bison bonasus bonasus (stated as vulnerable by IUCN, 2008) and the Lowland-Caucasian line Bison bonasus caucasicus (stated as endangered by IUCN, 2008). This makes the wisent more perceptive for genetic bottlenecks. Consequences of diseases (foot-and-mouth disease Aphte epizooticae, to which the species is known to be sensitive, and tuberculosis) poaching, habitat fragmentation and degradation can have a high influence on the survival of the wisent.


The overall aim of this project was to enhance natural processes and wilderness in Central and Eastern Europe and the essential role of large herbivores in this process.

ECNC did so by facilitating the reintroduction of European bison across Europe by 1) identifying cooperation opportunities with key stakeholders (such as the European Bison Conservation Centre); 2) formulating tasks that LHNet can support and facilitate; and 3) implement these activities in the years to come.

Time frame

January 2012 until January 2013


This activity was sponsored by Artis Zoo Amsterdam.