The bison is rightfully recognized as the ruler of forests. This is a very powerful, majestic and incredibly strong animal. It is a representative of ungulate chordate mammals. It is the bison that is considered one of the largest ungulate mammals on earth. In terms of size and weight, they are second only to American bison.
In comparison with their ancestors, modern bison are an order of magnitude smaller. In the last century, these animals were on the verge of extinction. It took a lot of effort for people to preserve this unique species and create conditions for its multiplication.
Origin of the species and description
The bison is the last representative of a wild bull in European territory. In accordance with historical data, animals descended from their ancient ancestors – bison. They represent a family of bovine bovids and belong to hoofed herbivorous mammals.
Historical data testify that during the Ice Age the bison already existed and was an object of hunting for people of that time. These facts confirm the cave paintings of that time discovered by archaeologists. Also, the mention of this amazing beast was found in the ancient chronicles of the Egyptians and Romans. It is known for certain that in ancient Rome bison were participants in gladiator fights.
Appearance and features
The appearance of the animal is striking in its grandeur and power. The average body length of an adult is about 3 meters. The height of the animal at the withers is about 2 meters, the girth of the neck in the most voluminous place is 2.5-3 meters. The front part of the body is much more powerful and massive. The neck is short, massive. Together with the anterior part of the back, the neck forms a voluminous, massive hump. Bison are distinguished by a wide chest and a collected, taut abdomen.
The head of artiodactyls is set low. That is why it seems that the tail is located above the head. Outwardly, the muzzle of the bison is small relative to the body. There is a massive frontal part. The parietal part has rather strong, massive horns. The ends of the horns are most often knocked down or pointed. The horns are smooth, shiny, black. The ears are small, rounded, covered with thick hair. On visual inspection, they are almost invisible. It is characteristic that animals do not differ in visual acuity, but they have excellent sense of smell and hearing.
Interesting fact: An animal’s coat can be of different colors depending on the subspecies and habitat region. In Bialowieza bison, it is gray-brown with a copper-brown tint. The hair on the head is noticeably darker, dark brown, almost black beard. In winter, it becomes thicker and darker.
Characteristic features of representatives of this species:
- The jaws have 32 teeth;
- The oral cavity, including lips and tongue, blue-lilac;
- The tongue is lined with rather large papillae;
- Short, massive neck;
- Huge, round black eyes;
- Thick, strong, stocky legs with huge hooves;
- The length of the tail is from 60 to 85 centimeters;
- The tail ends with a fluffy tassel;
- Beard in the region of the anterior chest and the region of the lower jaw;
- The head and chest are covered with thick, curly hair;
- The presence of a hump;
- Rounded horns;
- The mass of one adult individual reaches 800-900 kilograms;
- Males are much larger than females.
Despite their large dimensions, bison can quite quickly jump over obstacles about 1.5-2 high meters.
So we figured out what a bison looks like and how much it weighs. Now let’s find out where the bison lives.
Where does the bison live?
Bison are relatives of wild bulls. Until the moment of mass extermination, they sowed a vast territory. They lived in large numbers in the Caucasus, on the territory of western, southeastern and central Europe, Iran, Scandinavia. It is noteworthy that at that moment they were located not only in the zone of forests, but also in open areas – steppes, valleys. As they were exterminated, the representatives of the species went to more and more deaf and remote areas.
To date, the habitats of bison are forest-steppes, forests, which are located near water bodies. Today, the main zone of their habitat is the territory of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
We found out where the bison lives, now let’s figure out what he eats.
What does it eat bison?
Bison — herbivore. The basis of the diet of ungulates is various types of vegetation. Scientists have found that about four hundred species of vegetation can become a source of nutrition for this representative of ungulates. Bison feed on tree bark, leaves, young shoots of shrubs, lichens.
Interesting fact: The diet is adjusted by the region of residence, as well as climate and seasonality. In summer, animals eat berries and maple greens in large numbers. In autumn they can eat mushrooms, berries, acorns, hazelnuts.
On average, one adult requires about 45-55 kilograms of food per day. When kept in protected areas, bison are fed with hay. Such feeders are organized only for this type of animal. The pretensions of other animal species for food causes wrath and attacks from bison.
Water is a vital element. Its use is required by animals daily. Even if they hide from the scorching sun in forest thickets, by the end of the day they will definitely go to the watering place.
We found out what the bison eats, now let’s deal with its character and lifestyle.
Character and lifestyle features
By nature, bison are considered peaceful and calm animals. They don’t show aggression. A person should not be afraid of meeting him. The animal can approach people at a close distance. They will not cause harm and pose no danger if nothing threatens them. However, if the animal feels a threat to itself or its offspring, it becomes very aggressive and extremely dangerous. It can make sounds that resemble snorts.
Interesting Facts: Shaking the head also indicates that the animal is nervous. When attacked, the bison accelerates and strikes with massive, strong horns. Animals have a very sharply developed instinct for self-preservation.
If an obstacle is encountered on the way of an ungulate animal that poses a danger to it, it prefers to bypass it. Bison are not considered solitary animals. They form a herd, which includes from 3-4 to 16-20 representatives of the species. The bulk of the herd are females and young. At the head of the herd is the most experienced, wise and adult female. Males lead an independent lifestyle. They tend to adjoin the herd during the period of marriage. In the cold season, severe frosts, small herds unite with each other.
Bison are herbivores. They go out to pastures in the early morning and in the evening. During the day, most often they rest, sleep, bathe in the sand, bask in the sun, chew the gum, brush out the hair. In the spring, groups of animals come closer to water sources. In summer, in extreme heat, on the contrary, they retire to forest thickets. In the absence of vegetation, they are able to travel considerable distances in search of it. They have strong, powerful legs that allow them to cover long distances without fatigue. Bison can swim.
Bison are often attacked by predators. At such a moment, they take a defensive position in the form of a ring, in the middle of which are the weakest and most vulnerable members of the group.
Social Structure and Reproduction
The period of marriage relations of bison begins from the end of July and lasts until the beginning of October. During this period, males fight each other for the right to mate with females. Males leading a solitary lifestyle adjoin groups, displacing young individuals from it. After that, the courtship of the females begins. If there are several contenders for marriage with one female, the males fight. The loser leaves the herd, the winner continues the courtship.
Interesting fact: The gestation period lasts 9 months. By the time the baby is due, his mother is looking for a secluded place. Newborns are born one at a time, extremely rarely in the amount of two. The average body weight of a newborn is 23-26 kilograms.
After birth, the female carefully licks her cub. After 1.5-2 hours from the moment of birth, the baby can stand on its feet and freely follow the mother. Cubs tend to look for their mother by smell. The female returns to the herd with her offspring after 2-3 days to get acquainted with all its members.
The first time the baby tries plant food after 3-4 weeks from the moment of birth. However, mother’s milk continues to be fed on average up to a year. Cubs exist next to their mother in a herd up to 3-4 years. Young males that separate from the group gather together. They exist in small groups for the first few years. After they gain experience and strength, everyone begins to lead an independent, isolated lifestyle.
Growth continues up to 5-6 years, the cubs become sexually mature when they reach 3-5 years of age. The female is able to give offspring every year. Males involved in the continuation of the genus are mainly between the ages of 6 and 16 years. Young and old representatives of the stronger sex are not allowed by stronger and stronger males. The average life expectancy of a bison in natural conditions is 30-35 years. In nature reserves they can live 5-10 years longer.
Natural enemies of bison
In natural habitats, the main enemies of the bison are predatory animals.
The most vulnerable to predators are young individuals, as well as sick, weakened and old bison. Adult females and males may well fight back any predator. An exception is the attack on lone males that have strayed from the herd of females by flocks of predators. In this case, they win due to the quantitative advantage.
In addition to natural predators, a person is considered a dangerous enemy of the bison. Scientists argue that it was hunters and poachers who almost completely exterminated these representatives of ungulates in natural conditions. According to official data, in the 1920s the species practically disappeared from the face of the earth. It was possible to save it only thanks to the creation of protected areas and national parks, as well as due to the fact that a few individuals were preserved in private possessions.
Interesting fact: In the last century, many merchants and members of the nobility enjoyed hunting for animals due to their enormous size. Young animals were considered especially valuable, as they have tender and very juicy meat.
It should also be noted that in addition to poachers and predators, the number of animals in the nature of the disease has been significantly reduced. These include immune diseases, helminthic invasions, foot and mouth disease, anthrax, gastrointestinal pathologies.
Population and species status
To date, bison have been officially assigned the status of an endangered species. The growth of the population has led to the expansion of the boundaries of the territories mastered by man. The forest was cut down on a large scale, many types of vegetation were destroyed.
In ancient times, the habitat of these mighty animals was huge. They lived throughout Eurasia. Poaching and extermination in large numbers led to the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century bison were found only in the territory of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and the Caucasus. By this time, there were only about 65 individuals left in the world.
To date, thanks to the efforts of scientists, it has been possible not only to preserve, but also to increase the population of wild bulls. According to scientists, there were a little more than 3,000 individuals in the world in 2006. Only half of them in natural conditions.
- In order to preserve the species, bison were crossed with their closest relatives – American bison;
- In order to preserve these representatives of ungulate mammals, the species is listed in IUCN Red List as vulnerable;
- In the Red Book of Russia, the animal is listed with the status of “a species that is on the verge of extinction.”
In 1923, at the International Congress for the Conservation of Nature, the issue of the need to preserve and increase bison populations was raised. From that moment on, hunting them was officially prohibited. At the same congress, a collegium for the conservation of majestic wild bulls was organized. She carried out a census and registration of individuals remaining in the natural environment.
By the end of the 30s, the number of animals did not exceed 50. Zoologists launched a large-scale work on catching and breeding animals in the conditions of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks.
Today, work to preserve and increase the species is actively being carried out in the following areas:
- Protection against poaching;
- Official ban on hunting;
- Criminal punishment for violation of requirements;
- Improvement of habitat conditions;
- Creation of national parks, protected areas;
- Feeding animals.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the largest national park where the first group of animals bred in captivity was released into the wild. About seven hundred individuals live on its territory alone. In the 1940s, a program was launched to restore the Caucasian bison. They were bred on the territory of the Caucasian Reserve.
Interesting fact: According to the latest data, zoologists conducted a census of the bison population in 2016. During this event, it was found that the number of animals was increased to 6,000 individuals. The vast majority of them live on the territory of national reserves.
The bison is a majestic, unique animal. Mankind is not in vain making so many efforts to correct their mistakes and save this amazing beast. To date, the bison is considered the only animal in the world that, after almost complete destruction by poachers, has been multiplied and lives again in natural conditions.