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All Creatures,

Episode 90: Big, Bold, Bison

May 14, 2019

This week we discuss the national animal of the United States, the American Bison. We also touch upon its closely related cousin, the European Bison. Once numbering in the millions, the American Bison was reduced to just under 350 animals in the United States. The European Bison’s tale is similar. However, conservation efforts have saved both species and today they number in the thousands.

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Bison Description

The Bison is iconic of the American west. It is estimated in the 1500s there were between 30 or 60 million Bison roaming from the east coast of the United States, down to Northern Mexico, and all the way up through Canada into Alaska. With European settlers, the Bison were devastated and by 1900 less than 600 animals remained. However, conservation efforts by the Bronx Zoo and Smithsonian Institute saw the Bison saved and today number nearly 500,000 animals. However, over 90% of Bison are kept on private farms and ranches.

Bison belong to the family of Bovidae. There are two species of Bison:

  • American Bison (Bison bison)
  • European Bison (Bison bonasus)

Both species share very similar physiology, with some differences. Generally, the male Bison can stand upwards of 6.5 feet (1.9 m), can be 12.5 feet (3.8 m) long and weigh over 2400 lbs. (1,088 kg). Female bison tend to be a bit smaller but still quite large. Both sexes have horns, where males grow a nice long beard, they are quite handsome like that!

Bison Facts

Bison have been identified as being critical to a healthy prairie ecosystem. They filled a very important niche that has been knocked out of existence by the year 1900. Today, Bison do inhabit very small ranges both in North America and in Europe.

Some facts include

  • Live up to 20 years in the wild, 40 years under human care
  • Great sense of smell, hearing, but limited vision
  • On average run 30 mph (48 kph)
  • Heavy winter coats front half of body, turn and face the weather to stay warm
  • Old or young Bison can be killed by cougars, wolves and bears
  • Graze grasses and some lichen for about 11 hours each day, and spend much of their time traveling
  • Generally, eat 1.6% of their body weight per day

Conservation Status

The American Bison is classified as Near Threatened. The European Bison is classified as Vulnerable. Both species occupy less than 1% of their native range. There are an estimated 13,000 wild American Bison and only 1800 wild European Bison. Both species are protected but need more if they are to thrive.

Conservation Tips

Climate change threatens many species, to include many species to include Brown Bears. We all need to accept, understand, and strategize on how to combat climate change. The first step is understanding your own carbon imprint. You can evaluate your carbon imprint HERE.

This week think about reusing or refurbishing used items. Nearly 30% of carbon emissions in the United States is due to “provision of godds.” That means, it costs a lot of resources to build or create a product, package it, deliver it to market, and then dispose of it. If we can get in the habit of reusing or purchasing used items, we can reduce our carbon footprint. It’s a win win!

Organizations to Support

American Bison Society

Global Wildlife Conservation

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