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Bison – the American cousin of our bison

When the first Europeans came to North America, millions of buffalo lived on its vast prairies. In the 1990s, there were only about 20,000 of them left. The history of this giant mammal is full of human cruelty, but also a struggle to keep the species alive despite adversities.

American bison – history

For centuries, bison have been the main food source for the indigenous people of North America. Unfortunately, with the arrival of colonizers and the gradual conquest of these lands, buffalo hunting has become a mass entertainment for people armed with firearms.

The hunted bison were not used for skin or meat. Hunting was treated as a game, and only the tongues of the killed animals were taken as souvenirs.

For this reason, at the end of the 19th century, bison were on the verge of extinction. However, they were saved by lovers of the genre – the American Society for the Protection of Bison (American Bison Society). Currently, bison live only in national parks and reserves. You will meet them in:

  • Yellowstone in the United States;
  • Wood Buffalo Park in Canada.

The range of the buffalo occurrence

In addition to American and Canadian national parks, bison also inhabit numerous private farms, especially those in the USA. It is estimated that in this country, up to half a million individuals can live on private lands, while in national parks and reserves there are only about 20,000.

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What does a bison look like? Buffalo weight

Animals of this species are dark brown. The hair on the back of the body is quite short and close to the body. The front part – along with the head – is covered with longer and very dense bristles. This makes the bison seem even more powerful and massive.

The buffalo weight is really impressive. The heaviest individuals can weigh up to a ton. Their height at the withers is from 160 to 200 centimeters, while the length of the body is up to 3 meters. The female buffalo is slightly lighter and smaller than the male.

More than one animal? The bison and its subspecies

There are two subspecies of the American buffalo:

  • prairie bison (bison bison bison) – has a slightly smaller and rounded hump;
  • forest bison (Bison bison athabascae) – definitely bigger and heavier than the prairie.

Prairie bison now live in Yellowstone Park, while forest bison is found in Canada. However, it is assumed that the latter subspecies is no longer in pure form, and the inhabitants of the Canadian reserve have a mixture of the blood of the two.

The lifestyle of the buffalo

Like most bovine animals, bison live in herds. At a time when the existence of the species was not yet threatened, the abundance of these stocks was really impressive. Some had even several thousand individuals.

Sometimes the herds are made exclusively by mature males. There are also mixed groups. Then the oldest bulls occupy the edges of the herd to protect the younger individuals and females from potential danger.

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Bison are essentially sedentary, but they can migrate in search of food. They forage both in the plains and in the mountainous areas. It is a daytime species, but it is most active just before nightfall and in the early morning. It happens that buffalo migrate in search of food, then they move several kilometers a day.

Although they are extremely massive animals, they move at a fast gallop. Bison do not have natural enemies. Foxes, coyotes and wolves are only a threat to calves.

What do buffalo eat?

All bison are herbivores. The basis of their diet is grass and some sedges, which account for 75 to even 90% of the entire diet of this species. In case of eating problems, bison can also eat the bark and twigs of trees and shrubs. This species is extremely resistant to hunger, which in winter can even feed on mosses and lichens.

The bison and the bison – differences and similarities

At first glance, the bison may resemble a European bison. However, it is a bit more massive and definitely more hairy at the front of the body. Our native bisons are also visually taller. Bison have quite short hind legs and slightly higher humps, which make their head lean much lower.

The horns also make a big difference. European bison have them longer, thicker at the base and directed to the front, which allows them to interlock during the fight.

There are also behavioral differences between the bison and the buffalo. The latter are naturally calmer, easier to tame. Thus, they are more often crossed with domestic cattle. Bison are quite difficult in nature and harnessing them to farm work has never been an easy task.

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Bison breeding

The mating season for animals of this species falls in the summer months – from June to September. During this time, males compete with each other for partners. Bison gestation lasts about 300 days, and calves are born in the spring.

The female gives birth in isolation and only after a few days returns to the herd with the young. The calves remain under her loving care for the next three years. That’s when they reach sexual maturity. However, the bison do not fully mature until the age of 8-9. Their average life expectancy is 25 years.

Bison in Poland – breeding

In their natural habitat, the buffalo almost died out. In the United States itself, that is, in their homeland, today they live mainly on private farms. Interestingly, animals of this species can also be found in… Poland!

The first buffalo came to our country before the Second World War, in 1934 to be exact. Breeding attempts (mainly in Białowieża) were interrupted by the war. Only after the end of hostilities, several bison ended up in zoos.

The breakthrough came only in 2001. It was then that the first 19 bison from Denmark came to breeding in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship. In the following years, new breeding farms were established in various parts of Poland. The animals were brought to them from the aforementioned Denmark, as well as from Germany and Belgium.

Of course, you can also meet bison in zoos in the largest Polish cities, including Warsaw, Łódź and Katowice.

American bison – summary

The bison is an animal that has been almost completely killed by humans. Due to cruel and pointless hunting, it was once extremely numerous, today it exists only thanks to the efforts of specially established organizations.

Most of the buffalo living on earth today live on private farms, where they are bred for entertainment and meat purposes. Interestingly, such farms also exist in Poland. You can also see bison in many native zoos.