Conservation of the European bison, especially in Poland, has a long history. From the 15th to the 18th centuries, Bialowieza was a royal hunting forest and its game were fed in winter and protected. In the 19th century, under Russian control, the animals of the forest were exploited and their numbers were reduced (a few species even went extinct). World War I was extremely unkind to the bison, with many killed by troops and poachers. Early in this century, the last European bison in the wild was killed by a poacher. Almost immediately, a captive breeding program was instituted with zoo animals. These animals surprisingly survived World War II virtually unharmed, and the 1950's the first animals were released. The herd began to grow, and soon individuals were transported to other areas in order to keep any infectious disease from wiping out the entire population. Because natural mortality of these animals is so low, culling has become necessary. Pucek (1984) has pointed out that herd management is now more important than further increasing bison numbers. The most recent estimate available for the world population of B. bonasus was 3200 individuals (as of 1994). All of these animals are descended from 12 individuals. As might be expected, European bison are quite inbred. It has been shown that increasing the amount of inbreeding in these animals decreases their lifespan, increases juvenile mortality, and increases intercalf intervals. However, it does not seem to significantly affect age at first calving or the number of calves a cow is expected to give birth to during her lifetime. Related to the issue of inbreeding is the issue of genetic variability. An earlier study (Gebczynski and Tomaszewska-Guszkiewicz, 1987) demonstrated that variability in Bison bonasus was approximately the same as that in B. bison, even though the latter has not experienced a bottleneck of nearly the severity of that experienced by the former. A more recent study (Hartl and Pucek, 1994), utilizing a larger sample size and somewhat different methods, has concluded that genetic variability in B. bonasus was reduced by the bottleneck and that the "average heterozygosity" measure used by Gebczynski and Tomaszewska-Guszkiewicz (1987) is not sufficient to document genetic variability in populations that have experienced such a severe bottleneck.
European bison populations now exist on the British Isles as well as in North America and Asia. There are currently 200 European bison breeding centers found in 27 countries worldwide. However, as mentioned above, B. bonasus is only found in its native habitat in a few places. Poland in particular has four reserves containing bison, the largest of which is the Bialowieza Forest on the border with Russia. Virtually all of the work on the behavior and ecology of B. bonasus summarized in this species account was done in Bialowieza.
((Anonymous, 1981; Gebczynski and Tomaszewska-Guszkiewicz, 1987; Hartl and Pucek, 1994; Jedrzejewski et al., 1992; Krasinska et al., 1987; Okarma et al., 1995; Olech, 1987; Pucek, 1984; Sokolowski, 1983)
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable