Top 5 Bison Facts
5. Bison (scientific name Bison bison) are also called buffalo, which is actually a misnomer. True buffalo exist only in Africa and Asia. It is thought that early French explorers used the term “les boeufs”, meaning “cattle” to describe their encounters with bison in North America. Eventually “les boeufs” was changed to “la buff” which distorted to “buffalo”. Today the terms “bison” and “buffalo” are used almost interchangeably.
4. Bison nearly went extinct. In 1888, less than 100 bison were estimated to exist with 85 in the United States and 8 in Canada. Private ranchers, conservationists, hunters and the government began the first conservation programs for bison in North America. There are now more than 220,000 bison in North America. Many private herds exist for meat production as well as conservation and several public herds exist at National and State Parks in the US and Canada. Visit our friends at Wild Idea Buffalo Company to see how a working bison ranch contributes to conservation.
3. At one point bison were crossed with cattle. Early conservation efforts with bison experimented with cross-breeding them with cattle to bolster the genetic stock. Although there is very little cross-breeding today, many bison still have some cattle genes (often called “cattle introgression”). Only a few herds in North America contain “pure” bison, that is bison that have no cattle genes. Locations with large herds of “pure” bison include Yellowstone National Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Elk Island National Park.
2. More people are injured in Yellowstone National Park every year by bison than any other wildlife. Bison are not mean creatures but unwary tourists often get too close for comfort. Never approach bison closer than 250 feet while on foot. If in a vehicle drive very slowly through a herd that may be on the road. Do not honk the horn, drive aggressively or leave the vehicle. Bison can be unpredictable, particularly if you get too close.
1. Bison are the largest land mammal in North America. They grow up to 6 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Bison herds used to be somewhat migratory as they would wander throughout the Great Plains in search of new and succulent grasses. As the large herds ate the vegetation, trampled the soil and wallowed on the ground they would create disturbed areas. These disturbed areas are ideal for prairie dogs and many other wildlife species.