The European bison (Bison bonasus) - the largest mammal of Europe, has a status of Vulnerable (VU) species according to IUCN Red List, and has been selected as a priority species under EU Habitat Directive. The world population of the European bison is nearly the level of 5000 individuals (4987 individuals; EBPB, 2012). This population is divided into two genetically different lines (Lowland and Lowland-Caucasian).
- Bison bonasus (Lowland line): Vulnerable D1In 2000, the total population was 931, not all of these are mature individuals. Although the population declined between the early 1990s and 2000, it is currently increasing.
- Bison bonasus (Lowland-Caucasian line): Endangered C1+2a(i) - In 2000, the total population was 714, not all of these are mature individuals. The population decreased by >20% between 1990 and 2000, and has continued to decline since 2000. All subpopulations have fewqer than 250 individuals.
European bison is also included in the Habitat Directive and in Appendix II of the Bern Convention
A majority of the species is managed in free-living herds (3102 individuals; EBPB, 2012) and semi-free living herds (293 individuals; EBPB, 2012) but its considerable part is maintained in captivity . Captive breeding plays a very important role in the maintenance of the genetic variability within the species, because most genetically valuable animals live in breeding centers. More than 200 breeding centers of different kind and size exist in Europe. The number of animals in those centers is around the level of 1600 (EBPB, 2012) i.e. 30% of the whole world population. Other part of European bison population – semi-free and free-living herds - needs also very careful genetic and demographic management through planned reintroductions and restocking. It is important to facilitate communication among all people engaged into breeding of this species.
According to Species Action Plan, the long-term conservation program for European bison recovery, should include the continuation of the captive breeding of the species. The captive part of the world-wide population should be managed under the principles of conservation genetics. The program should ensure separation of the pure Lowland and the Lowland-Caucasian lines and avoid hybridization with any other related species. The captive breeding program should foster application of uniform rules aimed at maintaining or increasing genetic variability, and increase the number of herds and local population sizes. Continued should be the process of reintroduction and re-establishment of free-ranging populations into portions of the historical range. It is necessary to link isolated populations in a natural way or stimulate transfers of individuals from one herd to another. It is also very important to transfer all the founder genes as represented in the captive world population into free-ranging herds.