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European bison        Images © Mark A. Chappell

The two bison species that survive today -- the North American bison (or colloquially and inaccurately, 'buffalo') Bison bison and the European bison Bison bonasus (wisent in German or zubrów in Polish) have both had close brushes with extinction.   In the late 1800's, American bison were slaughtered until only a few small wild herds remained (most notably in boreal Canada and in Yellowstone National Park).   European bison were totally exterminated in the wild by 1926 and all existing animals are derived from a very small number of individuals from zoos.   Populations of both species have rebounded, the American bison to a much greater degree than the European species, which exists in about 20 or so small wild herds.   The largest and most famous of these is in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland, where these individuals were living in a large enclosure run by the Polish National Park Service.   European bison are lankier than the heavyset, hulking American bison, lack the American bison's heavy coarse mane of dark hair over the neck and shoulders, and, unlike their plains-dwelling North American relatives, are primarily forest animals.   In Bialowieza, even 'wild' bison depend on human intervention: in winter their natural food is supplemented with hay at a number of feeding stations in the forest.
          In the photo above at right, a juvenile pied wagtail can be seen perched on the bison's left front foot.

  • Canon 1D3, 500 mm F4 IS lens, some with 1.4X converter (2008)