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  • markcskilling

Wildlife Conservation Does Work ... Just Ask A Bison

First, let's clarify that an American Bison and a "Buffalo in America" are exactly the same thing. True Buffalos are either Cape Buffalos in Africa or Water Buffalos in Asia, and are very different than Bison. The confusion likely started when French explorers and settlers in America hunted bison for food and called the meat "boeuf" which means beef. OK, now let's get to the good stuff.

At their population peak in the 1500s there were an estimated 30 to 60 million bison roaming North America! However, in the early 1800s, bison were eliminated west of the Rocky Mountains and east of the Mississippi River. During the 19th century, when European American settlement was expanding into the Great Plains, bison were systematically slaughtered to the brink of extinction. By 1889, there were less than1,000 wild bison remaining. Beginning in the early 20th century, conservation herds were established to rebuild populations. Currently, there are approximately 30,000 bison in conservation herds (think "wild") and an additional 400,000 bison in commercial herds (think "buffalo burgers".) Because the wild bison population remains a very small fraction of what it once was, federal and state agencies, Native American tribes and nongovernmental conservation organizations are continuing to work hard to protect these historically important and majestic animals.

Here are five fun facts about Bison.

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.

2. 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.

3. Bison may be big, but they’re also fast. They can run up to 35 miles per hour. Plus, they’re agile and are strong swimmers.

4. The average lifespan for a bison is 10–20 years, but some live to be older. Cows begin breeding at the age of two and only have one calf at a time. For males, the prime breeding age is six to 10 years.

5. While bison have poor eyesight, they have excellent senses of smell and hearing.

Organizations that support Bison conservation include the US Department of the Interior, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Prairie, the Bison Conservation and Transfer Program through Yellowstone Forever, and the Defenders of Wildlife.

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