The name “Buffalo” is actually incorrect since the Bison is only distantly related to the Asian Water Buffalo and the African Buffalo. Bison is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal.
As docile as the bison may seem, it is a dangerous animal and can attack without provocation. An animal weighing around 2,000 pounds and capable of running 30-35 mph is definitely a force to be wary of! Their only real predators are wolves, brown bears, coyotes, mountain lions and humans.
Bison are broad and muscular with a shaggy coat and long hair. They may be up to 5 feet 11 inches long and weigh 880-1980 pounds (American bison). The European bison tend to be taller and broader. Bison travel in herds and populate river valleys, prairies, plains, open and semi-open grasslands as well as sagebrush, semiarid lands and scrublands. They will also make use of mountainous and hilly areas if the slopes are not too steep.
They are ruminants and feed on grasses, sedges and woody plants. In Yellowstone National Park they will also browse on willows and cottonwoods.
Many years ago my husband and I went to Big Bone Lick State Park in Big Bone (Boone County), KY. Mammoths and ancestors of the Bison, Horse and Sloth were said to have been drawn there by the salt deposits in the earth. The Park has changed drastically since we were there. There are now hiking trails, camping, a gift shop, museum, mini-golf, swimming, tennis, playground and more.
When we visited, the main attraction was to be able to see the bison up close and personal! We walked up to a wimpy wood and metal fence and looked around. There were no bison to be found. All of a sudden a small herd started walking toward us. Being the animal lover that I am and the fact that I have a deep respect for these animals, I was totally on Cloud 9.
You cannot possibly imagine how large these animals are until you are standing right in front of one. We were no more than 2-3 feet from them. Their heads are massive. They are gorgeous animals; but, as I said, very dangerous. We took some pictures; and then my husband noticed one of the very large males giving him the evil eye! If the bison would have decided to stampede through that wimpy fence, there would have been a blurb in the newspaper the next day: “Vacationing couple killed by stampeding bison.” He still talks about that mean-looking bison today.
The bison used to blacken the Plains of the West until the white man appeared. Hundreds were slaughtered and left in the sun to rot. That is a sacrilege to the Native Americans. The Indians revered the bison and thanked it when they killed one for food. To the Native American, there was a use for every part of the bison’s body. Nothing was wasted. In that same time period in the 1800’s the bison were hunted commercially and also fell victim to the diseases that were brought from the East via the pioneers’ cattle. Today, the bison herds have rebounded; but conservation efforts are still in effect.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
Have you ever seen the American bison?