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The American bison has long been a majestic symbol of the West. At one time, they could be found roaming North America from northern Canada to Mexico. In fact, researchers estimate that prairie bison alone numbered between 30 million and 200 million, while a woodland variant existed in smaller numbers. These solemn looking animals, so treasured by Native Americans, were slaughtered almost to the point of extinction by early settlers.

Take a moment to celebrate these magnificant animals.

Video by cavaroc with music by BertycoX.

Today free-roaming bison are limited to a few national parks and other small wildlife areas. Yellowstone National Park has the largest population of free-roaming plains bison (about 4,000), and Wood Buffalo National Park has the largest population of free-roaming wood bison (about 10,000).

Two different subspecies of bison have evolved in North America: The Plains Bison is smaller and sports a more rounded hump on its back and the Wood Bison, which is the largest in overall size and has a tall, square-like hump. The wood bison is listed as a threatened species and live in protected ranges of Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

"Buffalo" is the common name for bison, one that you'll hear used frequently throughout the West. Europeans were the first to begin calling this animal a buffalo, but it is only distantly related to the water buffalo found in Africa and Asia. Generally, bison and buffalo can be used interchangeably.

The color and texture of a buffalo’s fur depends on the season. During winter the fur coat turns a dark brown to black. Hair on the face can measure up to sixteen inches on the forehead, to provide protection in the winter storms of the open plains. A thinner, light brown coat is seen during the summer months.

Females bear only one calf a season after a 9-month gestation. She stays along with the calf for a couple of days before they both return to the herd.  Calves first produce a reddish-brown hide and eventually form their hump and grow the darker brown fur after two months. At a lumbering gallop, a full grown bison can run as fast as 40 miles per hour and jump over 6-foot barriers to outrun predators and take on very rough terrain.

The average buffalo can survive in the wild for more than 15 years. Only several thousand remain as free-range individuals. Most of this species are commercially raised in captivity for their hides and human consumption. In the past, the U.S. government and military actively promoted the slaughter of bison herds. Bison continue to be hunted legally in some states year round.

The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust led a coalition of like-minded organizations to secure migratory access and grazing rights for the Yellowstone herd across private lands in the region. Specifically, access was sought through the ranch owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant on the northeast boundary of the National Park.  In the past, exclusionary fencing has been a barrier to all migration and has resulted in significant capture and slaughter of wild bison.

Bison were most recently introduced into the Greater Grand Canyon region by Charles “Buffalo” Jones in the early 1900’s. This herd was sold to the state of Arizona in 1926, and has since been managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD). The herd has been managed as a wildlife game species by the AGFD, but in 2010, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust provided financial support for a study that would help form a scientifically sound and humane management plan of the herd.

In order to expand the scope of HSWLT’s influence and effectiveness for the benefit of wildlife, we frequently share funds, expertise and HSWLT’s humane philosophy with other organizations.  All HSWLT shared efforts are rooted in our commitment to providing wildlife with safe places to live, forever, by assisting other organizations that share our concerns for wildlife and habitat. 

Gray Wolf Close-up

Because of much misinformation, the wolf has been persecuted, hunted and killed to the point of near extinction all over the world.

 

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