We currently have a large herd of European bison.
They can be found in the main drive through reserve.
European bison previously roamed throughout western, central and south eastern Europe. Unfortunately by 1927, the species had been lost from the wild entirely and only 54 individuals survived in European Zoos. Since then there have been re-introductions to forests in Belarus, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Romania and Slovakia.
All our bison are part of the international breeding programme and we currently have one of the largest herds of European bison in the United Kingdom. We manage the European breeding programme for the species.
Glen Rosa, one of the females born here in 2012, was transported to Romania in 2014, along with five other females from UK and Irish zoos, as part of a reintroduction programme.
In 2022 one of our females, Glen Isla, moved to the Wilder Blean project run by Kent Wildlife Trust. Similar projects in Europe have shown that bison herds, known as ecosystem engineers, can restore the natural biodiversity of a landscape. Behaviours such as grazing, dust bathing, eating bark and felling trees enable other species to thrive.
Please find below an excerpt on our bison from our Main Reserve audio guide:
The European bison (Bison bonasus), is similar in appearance to its North American relative (Bison bison), it is taller but not as heavily built. Their dense coat is dark to golden brown in colour and is less bushy than that of the American bison. Both sexes have short horns that project outwards and then curve upwards.
European bison prefer a woodland habitat where they live in small herds browsing on leaves and other vegetation. Most of the year the cows and calves will form a herd, which will be joined by bulls around July, leading up to the rut between August and October. This is when disputes between bulls can occur and occasionally result in serious injuries such as deep wounds and broken bones. Most of the time however, fighting will consist more of threatening postures and bellowing. Most of the calves are born between May and July and are able to run only a few hours after birth.
Calves will remain with the herd until they reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age. After that, the males will join the bull groups and the females will stay with the cow/calf herd.
Bison are mainly browsers and they can spend up to 60% of daylight hours feeding. When food is plentiful, adult males may consume 32kg of food a day. Their diet varies according to the seasons and as well as grasses and sedges, also includes tree foliage, bark, mosses, fungi and herbaceous plants. Bison need to drink every day and in winter can be seen breaking ice with their heavy hooves. Despite their usual slow movements, they are surprisingly agile and can jump three metre wide streams or two metre high fences from a standing start.