wisent (vēˈsənt) [key], 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.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.