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  • Bison once roamed North America from Canada to northern Mexico. Today, wild bison herds are found in national parks and refugees.

  • The American bison was hunted to near-extinction in the 19th Century before conservation measures were put into place.

  • American bison live in grassland habitats such as plains, prairies and river valleys and are grazers meaning they eat mainly grasses.

  • The bison's horns, strong hooves, large size and speed - Bison can run 35 mph - are effective weapons of self-defense against wolf packs and even bears.

  • The bison is the largest land mammal in North America. Male bison, called bulls, stand 6 feet tall and weigh 1 ton. Cows, female bison, weigh only half as much but they are hefty beasts all the same.

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. These solemn looking animals, so treasured by Native Americans, were slaughtered almost to the point of extinction by early settlers.

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, the words bison and buffalo can be used interchangeably.

Bison can live on plains, prairies and river valleys. 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).

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.

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.

Female bison are ready to mate when they are two to three years old. Males aren't ready to mate until they are about six. Females bear only one calf a season after a 9-month gestation. She stays alone 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.

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.

Beaver Close-up

Though beavers are cousins to mice and squirrels, they are North America's largest rodents, weighing 50 or more pounds.

 

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