And it highlights the efforts of Native American leaders dedicated to bringing back the animal that once gave life to their tribes. The early bison were enormous lumbering animals, weighing up to 5, pounds and sporting horns that spanned more than six feet across. Over time, however, the North American stock evolved into trimmer beasts. Still, modern bison can weigh up to 2, pounds; they can be more than a dozen feet long and stand up to six feet tall at their massive shoulder hump, which serves as a storehouse for energy-rich fat.
Researchers estimate that prairie bison alone numbered between 30 million and million, while a woodland variant existed in smaller numbers. Though killing such large, fast animals was a formidable task — bison can run for long periods at up to 35 miles per hour — ancient tribes soon perfected several effective techniques. Some would surround small herds with a human chain, giving archers a better shot at the tightly packed animals.
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Others learned to stampede bison over cliffs. In the s, however, things began to change.
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First, Spanish explorers introduced horses to the region. By the s, Native Americans had learned to use the speedy steeds to chase bison, dramatically expanding their hunting range and effectiveness.
American bison - Wikipedia
Next, guns made their way into the hands of buffalo hunters, making them increasingly deadly hunters. But it was that arrival of vast waves of white settlers in the s — and their conflict with the Native American residents of the prairies — that spelled the end for the buffalo. Among the earliest waves of settlers were trappers and traders, people who made their living selling meat and hides. By the s, they were shipping hundreds of thousands of buffalo hides eastward each year: more than 1.
The body of the American bison is hairier, though its tail has less hair than that of the European bison. The horns of the European bison point forward through the plane of its face, making it more adept at fighting through the interlocking of horns in the same manner as domestic cattle, unlike the American bison which favors charging. During the population bottleneck, after the great slaughter of American bison during the s, the number of bison remaining alive in North America declined to as low as During that period, a handful of ranchers gathered remnants of the existing herds to save the species from extinction.
These ranchers bred some of the bison with cattle in an effort to produce "cattlo". Generally, male domestic bulls were crossed with buffalo cows, producing offspring of which only the females were fertile. The crossbred animals did not demonstrate any form of hybrid vigor , so the practice was abandoned. The proportion of cattle DNA that has been measured in introgressed individuals and bison herds today is typically quite low, ranging from 0. The U. National Bison Association has adopted a code of ethics which prohibits its members from deliberately crossbreeding bison with any other species.
Despite being the closest relatives of domestic cattle native to North America, bison were never domesticated by Native Americans. Later attempts of domestication by Europeans prior to the 20th century met with limited success. This agility and speed, combined with their great size and weight, makes bison herds difficult to confine, as they can easily escape or destroy most fencing systems, including most razor wire.
The most successful systems involve large, 20 ft. These fencing systems, while expensive, require very little maintenance. Furthermore, making the fence sections overlap so the grassy areas beyond are not visible prevents the buffalo from trying to get to new range. About , bison currently exist on private lands and around 30, on public lands which includes environmental and government preserves. The southern extent of the historic range of the American bison includes northern Mexico and adjoining areas in the United States as documented by archeological records and historical accounts from Mexican archives from AD to the 19th century.
In , genetically pure bison were reintroduced to the Janos Biosphere Reserve in northern Chihuahua adding to the Mexican bison population. S Tribes and Canadian First Nations signed a treaty to help with the restoration of bison, the first to be signed in nearly years. American bison live in river valleys, and on prairies and plains. Typical habitat is open or semiopen grasslands, as well as sagebrush, semiarid lands, and scrublands.
Some lightly wooded areas are also known historically to have supported bison. Bison also graze in hilly or mountainous areas where the slopes are not steep. Though not particularly known as high-altitude animals, bison in the Yellowstone Park bison herd are frequently found at elevations above 8, feet and the Henry Mountains bison herd is found on the plains around the Henry Mountains , Utah, as well as in mountain valleys of the Henry Mountains to an altitude of 10, feet.
The first thoroughfares of North America, except for the time-obliterated paths of mastodon or muskox and the routes of the mound builders , were the traces made by bison and deer in seasonal migration and between feeding grounds and salt licks. Many of these routes, hammered by countless hoofs instinctively following watersheds and the crests of ridges in avoidance of lower places' summer muck and winter snowdrifts, were followed by the aboriginal North Americans as courses to hunting grounds and as warriors' paths. They were invaluable to explorers and were adopted by pioneers.
Bison traces were characteristically north and south, but several key east-west trails were used later as railways. In Senator Thomas Hart Benton 's phrase saluting these sagacious path-makers, the bison paved the way for the railroads to the Pacific. Bison are migratory and herd migrations can be directional as well as altitudinal in some areas.
In the Hayden Valley, Wyoming, bison have been recorded traveling, on average, 2 miles 3. On shortgrass pasture, bison predominately consume warm-season grasses. Female bison live in maternal herds which include other females and their offspring. Male offspring leave their maternal herd when around three years old and either live alone or join other males in bachelor herds. Male and female herds usually do not mingle until the breeding season, which can occur from July through September. During the breeding season, dominant bulls maintain a small harem of females for mating.
Individual bulls "tend" cows until allowed to mate, by following them around and chasing away rival males. The tending bull shields the female's vision with his body so she will not see any other challenging males. Male bison play no part in raising the young. Bison herds have dominance hierarchies that exist for both males and females. A bison's dominance is related to its birth date. In addition to dominance, the older bison of a generation also have a higher fertility rate than the younger ones. Bison mate in August and September; gestation is days.
A single reddish-brown calf nurses until the next calf is born. If the cow is not pregnant, a calf will nurse for 18 months. Cows nurse their calves for at least 7 or 8 months, but most calves seem to be weaned before the end of their first year. Bison have a life expectancy around 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. Bison have been observed to display homosexual behaviors , males much more so than females.
In the case of males, it is unlikely to be related to dominance , but rather to social bonding or gaining sexual experience. Bison mate in late spring and summer in more open plain areas.
During fall and winter, bison tend to gather in more wooded areas. During this time, bison partake in horning behaviors. They rub their horns against trees, young saplings, and even utility poles. Aromatic trees like cedars and pine seem to be preferred. Horning appears to be associated with insect defense, as it occurs most often in the fall when the insect population is at its highest. A bison wallow is a shallow depression in the soil, which bison use either wet or dry.
Bison roll in these depressions, covering themselves with dust or mud. Past and current hypotheses to explain the purpose of wallowing include grooming associated with shedding, male-male interaction typically rutting , social behavior for group cohesion, play, relief from skin irritation due to biting insects, reduction of ectoparasite tick and lice load, and thermoregulation. While often secure from predation because of their size and strength, in some areas, bison are regularly preyed upon by wolves. Wolf predation typically peaks in late spring and early summer, with attacks usually being concentrated on cows and calves.
Wolves more actively target herds with calves than those without. The length of a predation episode varies, ranging from a few minutes to over nine hours. When fleeing wolves in open areas, cows with young calves take the lead, while bulls take to the rear of the herds, to guard the cows' escape. Bison typically ignore wolves not displaying hunting behavior.
Grizzly bears can also pose a threat to calves and sometimes old, injured, or sick adult bison. Bison are among the most dangerous animals encountered by visitors to the various North American national parks and will attack humans if provoked. Between and , more than three times as many people in Yellowstone National Park were injured by bison than by bears. During this period, bison charged and injured 79 people, with injuries ranging from goring puncture wounds and broken bones to bruises and abrasions.
Bears injured 24 people during the same time. Three people died from the injuries inflicted—one person by bison in , and two people by bears in and Buffalo hunting hunting of the American bison was an activity fundamental to the Indigenous peoples of the Plains , which was later adopted by American professional hunters as well as by the U. In fact, for some Plains indigenous peoples, bison are known as the first people.
As Crow chief Plenty Coups described it: "When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere. In order to boost morale during this time, Sioux and other tribes took part in the Ghost Dance , which consisted of hundreds of people dancing until persons were lying unconscious.
Today, many conservation measures have been taken by Native Americans with the Inter Tribal Bison Council being one of the most significant. It was formed in , composed of 56 tribes in 19 states. Some Inter Tribal Bison Council members argue that the bison's economic value is one of the main factors driving its resurgence. Bison serve as a low cost substitute for cattle, and can withstand the winters in the Plains region far easier than cattle. Bison being chased off a cliff as "seen" and painted by Alfred Jacob Miller. Ulm Pishkun. The Blackfoot drove bison over cliffs in the autumn to secure the winter supply.
The Blackfoot used pishkuns as late as the s. Bison are increasingly raised for meat , hide , wool , and dairy products. The majority of American bison in the world are raised for human consumption or fur clothing. Bison meat is generally considered to taste very similar to beef, but is lower in fat and cholesterol , yet higher in protein than beef,  which has led to the development of beefalo , a fertile hybrid of bison and domestic cattle. A market even exists for kosher bison meat; these bison are slaughtered at one of the few kosher mammal slaughterhouses in the U.
Bison are found in publicly and privately held herds. Custer State Park in South Dakota is home to 1, bison, one of the largest publicly held herds in the world, but some question the genetic purity of the animals. Another population, the Antelope Island bison herd on Antelope Island in Utah, consisting of to bison, is also one of the largest and oldest public herds in the United States, but the bison in that herd are considered to be only semifree roaming, since they are confined to the Antelope Island.
In addition, recent genetic studies indicate that, like most bison herds, the Antelope Island bison herd has a small number of genes from domestic cattle. In , the United States government donated some bison calves from South Dakota and Colorado to the Mexican government. Recent genetic studies of privately owned herds of bison show that many of them include animals with genes from domestic cattle.
The numbers are uncertain because the tests used to date— mitochondrial DNA analysis—indicate only if the maternal line back from mother to mother ever included domesticated bovines, thus say nothing about possible male input in the process. Most hybrids were found to look exactly like purebred bison; therefore, appearance is not a good indicator of genetics.
The size of the Canadian domesticated herd genetic questions aside grew dramatically through the s and s. The Census of Agriculture reported the Canadian herd at , head, a Alberta was the province with the largest herd, accounting for The next-largest herds were in Saskatchewan The main producing regions were in the northern parts of the Canadian prairies , specifically in the parkland belt , with the Peace River region shared between Alberta and British Columbia being the most important cluster, accounting for A proposal known as Buffalo Commons has been suggested by a handful of academics and policymakers to restore large parts of the drier portion of the Great Plains to native prairie grazed by bison.
Proponents argue that current agricultural use of the shortgrass prairie is not sustainable , pointing to periodic disasters, including the Dust Bowl , and continuing significant human population loss over the last 60 years. However, this plan is opposed by some who live in the areas in question. A major problem that bison face today is a lack of genetic diversity due to the population bottleneck the species experienced during its near-extinction event.
Another genetic issue is the entry of genes from domestic cattle into the bison population, through hybridization. Officially, the "American buffalo" is classified by the United States government as a type of cattle, and the government allows private herds to be managed as such. This is a reflection of the characteristics that bison share with cattle. Though the American bison is not only a separate species, but also is usually regarded as being in a separate genus from domestic cattle Bos taurus , they clearly have a lot of genetic compatibility and American bison can interbreed with cattle, although only the female offspring are fertile in the first generation.
Many ranchers have deliberately crossbred their cattle with bison, and some natural hybridization could be expected in areas where cattle and bison occur in the same range. Since cattle and bison eat similar food and tolerate similar conditions, they have often been in the same range together in the past, and opportunity for crossbreeding may sometimes have been common. In recent decades, tests were developed to determine the source of mitochondrial DNA in cattle and bison, and most private "buffalo" herds were actually crossbred with cattle, and even most state and federal buffalo herds had some cattle DNA.
With the advent of nuclear microsatellite DNA testing, the number of herds known to contain cattle genes has increased. Though about , bison exist on private ranches and in public herds, perhaps only 15, to 25, of these bison are pure and not actually bison-cattle hybrids.
One possible explanation for this might be the small amount of domestic cattle genes that are now in most bison populations, though this is not the only possible explanation for bison success. In the study, cattle genes were also found in small amounts throughout most national, state and private herds. However, the extension of this herd into the Book Cliffs of central Utah involved mixing the founders with additional bison from another source, so it is not known if the Book Cliffs extension of the herd is also free of cattle hybridization.
A separate study by Wilson and Strobeck, published in Genome , was done to define the relationships between different herds of bison in the United States and Canada, and to determine whether the bison at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and the Yellowstone Park bison herd were possibly separate subspecies. The Wood Buffalo Park bison were determined to actually be crossbreeds between plains and wood bison, but their predominant genetic makeup was that of the expected "wood buffalo".
Another finding was that the bison in the Antelope Island herd in Utah appeared to be more distantly related to other plains bison in general than any other plains bison group that was tested, though this might be due to genetic drift caused by the small size of only 12 individuals in the founder population. A side finding of this was that the Antelope Island bison herd appears to be most closely related to the Wood Buffalo National Park bison herd, though the Antelope Island bison are actually plains bison.
Among Native American tribes, especially the Plains Indians , the bison is considered a sacred animal and religious symbol. Neyooxet Greymorning, "The creation stories of where buffalo came from put them in a very spiritual place among many tribes. The buffalo crossed many different areas and functions, and it was utilized in many ways. It was used in ceremonies, as well as to make tipi covers that provided homes for people, utensils, shields, weapons and parts were used for sewing with the sinew. The American bison is often used in North America in official seals, flags, and logos.
In , the American bison became the national mammal of the United States. In Canada, the bison is the official animal of the province of Manitoba and appears on the Manitoba flag. It is also used in the official coat of arms of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Several American coins feature the bison, most famously on the reverse side of the " buffalo nickel " from to In , the United States Mint coined a nickel with a new depiction of the bison as part of its "Westward Journey" series. The Kansas and North Dakota state quarters, part of the " 50 State Quarter " series, each feature bison.
The Kansas state quarter has only the bison and does not feature any writing, while the North Dakota state quarter has two bison. The Montana state quarter prominently features a bison skull over a landscape. The Yellowstone National Park quarter also features a bison standing next to a geyser. Skin effigy of a Buffalo used in the Lakota Sun Dance. Manitoba uses a bison in its provincial flag, as seen inside the Manitoban coat of arms.
The Buffalo nickel —this style of coin featuring an American bison was produced from to From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. American bison Temporal range: 0. Conservation status. Linnaeus , See also: Great bison belt. Play media. Main article: Bison hunting. A bison hunt depicted by George Catlin. Holocene bison. Wood bison. Plains bison. Original range. Range as of Wyoming uses a bison in its state flag.
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