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European Bison


European bison (Bison bonasus)

Principal Biologist(s)

Magnus McCaffery, Mike Phillips

Project Location

Russia and the Carpathian region of Eastern Europe

Conservation Problem

Habitat degradation and fragmentation due to agricultural activity, logging, and unrestricted hunting led to the extinction of wild European bison populations during the early part of the 20th Century. Captive breeding efforts from a founding population of just 12 individuals eventually led to reintroductions of the species to the wild beginning in the early 1950s. The reduction in bison habitat over the past century, in conjunction with diminished levels of heterozygosity, requires intensive management of captive breeding, translocations, and reintroductions.

Conservation Status

  • Species listing: Vulnerable (IUCN)
  • Lowland line subspecies (B. b. bonasus) listing: Vulnerable (IUCN)
  • Lowland-Caucasian line subspecies (B. b. bonasus × B. b. caucasicus): Endangered (IUCN)

TESF Involvement:

Involved from 2008-2012

Principal investigators, Dr. Wanda Olech and Dr. Taras Sipko, received funding from the Turner Foundation to implement a 5-year program on behalf of European bison to improve the conservation status of the species. TESF was involved in the decision making process for funding this project as well as for reviewing the science and assessing the results of this program.

Project Goals & Objectives

The goals of this project were to (A) improve the conservation status of bison in the Carpathian Mountains region of Eastern Europe, and (B) to support the establishment of a free-ranging bison group in the Vologda region of Russia. To this end, between 2008 and 2012, Turner Foundation funds were used for the following objectives:

OBJECTIVE A1. Transfer European bison from Western European captive facilities to the Carpathian region to enrich genetic diversity in this area.


  • a) Transfer 20 – 25 animals to captive breeding facilities at Vanatori Neamt National Park, Romania.
  • b) Transfer 10 – 14 animals to Skolivski Beskydy National park, Ukraine.
  • c) Transfer 5 – 8 animals to Bieszczady, Poland.
  • d) Transfer 5 – 8 animals to Poloniny National Park, Slovakia.

OBJECTIVE A2. Develop a European bison advisory center at Warsaw Agricultural University to provide an up-to-date and accessible repository of bison pedigree data.

OBJECTIVE A3. Collect and analyze genetic samples from captive and free-ranging European bison herds.

OBJECTIVE B1. Transfer bison from breeding centers near Moscow to the Ust’-Kubenskoe Forest Reserve (U-KHF) in the Vologda Region of the Russian Federation. This is intended to establish a second free-ranging herd.


Transfer 50 animals to U-KHF

i. Expected transfer of 10 – 12 animals/year

OBJECTIVE B2. Collect and analyze genetic samples from captive and free-ranging European bison herds.


Project Background