Last weekend, I made a post about true buffalo. Those species are found in Asia and Africa. Today, I’m going to talk about bison, which also get called buffalo. Both groups are bovines, but there are differences. Bison have humps, larger heads, beards, thick coats that they shed, and their horns are both shorter and sharper. Now that we got the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get going.
Surprisingly, there are two species in the genus of Bison. First is the European Bison, which is found in Europe and the Caucasus. The other is the American Bison, which is what many of us are probably used to. The big, burly animals that charge through open plains in Westerns. There are actually two subspecies of American Bison, which are the Plains Bison and Wood Bison.
Going to jump into conservation part right away because it is rather interesting:
- The European Bison is considered Near Threatened because it was extinct in the wild due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1927, the last wild one was shot and that left only 60 in captivity. Since then, they have been gradually revived through a breeding and reintroduction program to bring the number of wild individuals up to around 6,200. Not bad, but still a ways to go.
- The American Plains Bison faced the same overhunting and habitat loss. They also have benefited from a breeding and reintroduction program. They went from 325 in 1884 to a current population of 500,000. This pulls them away from extinction, but they are still at risk from genetic contamination by cattle, disease, habitat destruction, and some extra human stupidity. That last one is a false belief that bison can spread diseases to cattle, so they are killed.
- The American Wood Bison is considered threatened in Canada, which is where it is typically found. Their population is at 2,500. Again, it’s thanks to breeding and reintroduction programs.
Now, is there a difference between the American and European bison? American bison are heavier while European are taller. American has hairier bodies while European have hairier tails. European bison hold their heads higher because their are browsers while the American bison is lower due to being a grazer. American bison have their horns pointing more sideways and up than European bison due to the former fighting with butting/charging and the latter doing horn-locking battles. Finally, American bison have fifteen pairs of ribs and four lumbar vertebrae while European ones have fourteen pairs of ribs and five lumbar vertebrae.
Some other tidbits:
- Both bison are the largest are the largest land mammals of their areas.
- Yellowstone National Park is the only location where American bison have continually lived since prehistoric times. All other places had them extinct until reintroduction.
- Bison show their mood with the tails. Hanging down means calm and standing straight up means angry.
- Bison can run 35-40 miles per hour. They can also jump 6 feet vertically. Keep in mind that these are animals that can weigh over 2 tons.
- Bison roll in dirt to shed hair and get rid of flies.
- Bison have poor eyesight, but good senses of hearing and smell.
- The hump of a bison is all muscle. Its purpose is to help use the massive head to plow through snow.
Let’s see some pictures and videos. I went with two for each species/subspecies since there were only three.
(Had to take one video from the Bronx Zoo. Always love seeing calves running around.)