The American bison is also commonly called the American buffalo, however they are only very distantly related to the true buffalo species found in Africa and Asia. American bison are ungulates (they walk on the tips of their toes). They are part of the family Bovidae which cattle and goats belong to. American bison are the heaviest land animal in North America. Males are larger than females and can tip the scales at over a ton! Despite this massive weight, bison can gallop at speeds up to 60 kilometres and are good swimmers as they are quite buoyant in the water. Their shaggy fur offers them incredible insulation during the harsh winters. Bison living in Yellow Stone National Park can often be seen with snow on top of their backs demonstrating the high insulation property of their thick fur! They are crepuscular meaning they are mainly active in the morning and early evening and will rest during the day. Bison move continuously while grazing and do not overgraze an area; but rather support a healthy landscape for both flora and fauna. Bison are ruminants (they have a four-chambered stomach!) and while resting they will “chew the cud”.
Mating season lasts from June to September and pregnant females generally give birth to one calf the following spring. Within 3 hours of birth calves are able to run but stay close by their mothers. They are weaned in 7 to 12 months.
Only a small fraction of Bison are free-ranging. The majority of bison are part of captive managed stocks. Habitat loss, reduction of genetic diversity,cross-breeding with domestic cattle and culling of wild Bison to prevent spread of bovine diseases to agricultural stock have left these majestic animals less than secure in the wild.