The Facts And History Of The American Bison

American BisonThe American bison, also commonly known as the American buffalo or simply buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. They became nearly extinct by a combination of commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century and introduction of bovine diseases from domestic cattle, and have made a recent resurgence largely restricted to a few national parks and reserves. Their historical range roughly comprised a triangle between the Great Bear Lake in Canada’s far northwest, south to the Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo León, and east to the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.  Bison were seen in North Carolina near Buffalo Ford on the Catawba River as late as 1750.

Plains vs Woods BisonTwo subspecies have been described: the plains bison, smaller in size and with a more rounded hump, and the wood bison the larger of the two and having a taller, square hump.  Furthermore, the plains bison has been suggested to consist of a northern and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three.  The wood bison is one of the largest wild species of bovid in the world.

The term buffalo is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, and could be confused with “true” buffalos, the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, bison is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while buffalo originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts’ bœufs, meaning ox or bullock—so both names, bison and buffalo, have a similar meaning. The name buffalo is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American buffalo or bison.

Wild West BuffaloIn Plains Indian languages in general, male and female buffaloes are distinguished, with each having a different designation rather than there being a single generic word covering both sexes. Thus:

in Arapaho: bii (buffalo cow), henéécee (buffalo bull)
in Lakota: pté (buffalo cow), tȟatȟáŋka (buffalo bull)

Despite being the closest relatives of domestic cattle native to North America, bison were never domesticated by Native Americans. Later attempts of domestication by Europeans prior to the 20th century met with limited success. Bison were described as having a “wild and ungovernable temper”; they can jump close to 6 ft vertically, and run 35–40 mph when agitated. Bison were difficult to confine due to their agility, speed and weight as it was easy for them to escape most fencing systems.

Facts About The American Buffalo

Rocky Mountain BuffaloBison  are the largest mammal and males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall.  The Yellowstone herd is the only location where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times.  These herds are considered the only “pure” strain that roam the country’s grasslands and as of 2015, the population of the Yellowstone herd is estimated at 4,900 making it the largest in the country.

You can somewhat judge a bison’s mood by what’s going on with its tail.  When calm, the tail hangs down and switches naturally.  Although you can never trust the mood of a bison, when that tail is straight up, it’s time to stand back and get out of its way as it may be ready to charge.

The bison can live up to 20 years with an average between 10 and 20 years.  The cows begin breeding after 2 years, the bulls after 6 years.  All bison love to wallow in the dirt but the males perform this task during mating season to leave their scent and display their strength.

Bison Butting HeadsThe ancestry can be traced back to southern Asia thousands of years ago but made their way to America crossing the land bridge connecting Asia with North America hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Then, these bison were much larger and fossil records show that a prehistoric bison had horns measuring 9 feet from tip to tip.

The American bison’s ancestors can be traced to southern Asia thousands of years ago. Bison made their way to America by crossing the ancient land bridge that once connected Asia with North America during the Pliocene Epoch, some 400,000 years ago. These ancient animals were much larger than the iconic bison we love today. Fossil records show that one prehistoric bison, Bison had horns measuring 9 feet from tip to tip.

While bison have poor eyesight, they have excellent senses of smell and hearing. Cows and calves communicate using pig-like grunts, and during mating season, bulls can be heard bellowing across long distances.

Bison Range Migrations And Habits

Buffalo on the North RimBuffalo don’t roam the entire United States but about 500,000 bison currently exist on private lands and around 30,000 on public lands which includes environmental and government preserves.  Roughly 15,000 bison are considered wild, free-range bison not primarily confined by fencing.  In 2009, bison were reintroduced to the Janos Biosphere Reserve in northern Chihuahua; this is the only free-roaming herd on Mexican federal land. Efforts to bring back the bison population have recently reintroduced bison to Indiana, which included the introduction of a herd consisting of 23 bison. In 2014, U.S Tribes and Canadian First Nations signed a treaty to help with the restoration of bison, the first to be signed in nearly 150 years.

Golf Buffalo NickelAmerican bison live in river valleys, and on prairies and plains. Typical habitat is open or semi open grasslands, as well as sagebrush, semiarid lands, and scrublands. Some lightly wooded areas are also known historically to have supported bison. Bison also graze in hilly or mountainous areas where the slopes are not steep. Though not particularly known as high-altitude animals, bison in the Yellowstone Park are frequently found at elevations above 8,000 feet and the Henry Mountains bison herd is found on the plains around the Henry Mountains, Utah up to an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Bison are migratory and herd migrations can be directional as well as altitudinal.  Bison have usual daily movements between foraging sites during the summer. In a Montane Ecosystem, bison have been recorded traveling, on average, 2 miles a day.  The summer ranges of bison appear to be influenced by seasonal vegetation changes, interspersion and size of foraging sites, the rut, and the number of biting insects.  The size of preserve and availability of water may also be a factor.  Bison are largely grazers, eating primarily grasses and sedges. On short grass pasture, bison predominately consume warm-season grasses.  On mixed prairie, cool-season grasses, including some sedges, apparently compose 79–96% of their diet.