Bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. Photo by Jim Carr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Published May 9, 2016
10 Facts about bison you should know
WASHINGTON— President Barack Obama signed H.R. 2908, the “National Bison Legacy Act,” today, Monday, May 9, 2016, which adopts the North American bison as the national mammal of the United States.
The bipartisan bill also recognizes the historical, economic, and cultural significance of the bison, as well as its importance to many American Indian tribes as a sacred and spiritual symbol of their heritage.
More than 40 million bison once roamed across most of North America. But by the late 1800s, fewer than one thousand bison remained. The species is acknowledged as the first American conservation success story, having been brought back from the brink of extinction by a concerted effort of ranchers, conservationists, and politicians to save the species in the early 20th century.
Congress aproved the legislation two weeks ago.
10 Facts about Bison You Should Know:
1. Bison are the largest mammal in North America. Male bison (called bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall, while females (called cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds and reach a height of 4-5 feet. Bison calves weigh 30-70 pounds at birth.
A bison walking by the Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Photo by Jennifer Michaud (www.sharetheexperience.org).
2. Since the late 19th century, Interior has been the primary national conservation steward of the bison. Public lands managed by Interior support 17 bison herds — or approximately 10,000 bison — in 12 states, including Alaska.
3. What’s the difference between bison and buffalo? While bison and buffalo are used interchangeably, in North America the scientific name is bison. Actually, it’s Bison bison bison (genus: Bison, species: bison, subspecies: bison), but only saying it once is fine. Historians believe that the term “buffalo” grew from the French word for beef, “boeuf.”
4.Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times.What makes Yellowstone’s bison so special is that they’re the pure descendants (free of cattle genes) of early bison that roamed our country’s grasslands. As of July 2015, Yellowstone’s bison population was estimated at 4,900 — making it the largest bison population on public lands.
5. What’s a “red dog”? It’s a baby bison. Bison calves tend to be born from late March through May and are orange-red in color, earning them the nickname “red dogs.” After a few months, their hair starts to change to dark brown and their characteristic shoulder hump and horns begin to grow.
6. The history of bison and Native Americans are intertwined. Bison have been integral to tribal culture, providing them with food, clothing, fuel, tools, shelter and spiritual value. Established in 1992, the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council works with the National Park Service to transfer bison from national park lands to tribal lands.
7. You can judge a bison’s mood by its tail. When it hangs down and switches naturally, the bison is usually calm. If the tail is standing straight up, watch out! It may be ready to charge. No matter what a bison’s tail is doing, remember that they are unpredictable and can charge at any moment. Every year, there are regrettable accidents caused by people getting too close to these massive animals. It’s great to love the bison, but love them from a distance.
8. Wind Cave National Park’s herd helped revive bison populations around the country. The story starts in 1905 with the formation of the American Bison Society and a breeding program at the New York City Zoo (today, the Bronx Zoo). By 1913, the American Bison Society had enough bison to restore a free-ranging bison herd. Working with Interior, they donated 14 bison to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. More than 100 years later, the bison from Wind Cave have helpedreestablishing other herds across the United States and most recently in Mexico.
9. Bison may be big, but they’re also fast. They can run up to 35 miles per hour. Plus, they’re extremely agile. Bison can spin around quickly, jump high fences and are strong swimmers.
10. Pass the salad, please. Bison primarily eat grasses, weeds and leafy plants — typically foraging for 9-11 hours a day. That’s where the bison’s large protruding shoulder hump comes in handy during the winter. It allows them to swing their heads from side-to-side to clear snow — especially for creating foraging patches. Learn how bison’s feeding habits can help ensure diversity of prairie plant species especially after a fire.