Millions of bison once thundered across North America. These massive animals, characterized by their long, shaggy brown coats, have poor eyesight but acute hearing and an excellent sense of smell.
Bison, symbolic animals of the Great Plains, are often mistakenly called buffaloes.
Bison have a life expectancy of approximately 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.
Bison stand some 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6.5 feet) tall at the shoulder, and can tip the scales at over a ton.
Despite their massive size, bison are quick on their feet. When the need arises they can run at speeds up to 65 kilometers (40 miles) an hour.
They sport curved, sharp horns that may grow to be 60 centimeters (2 feet) long.
Known for roaming great distances, bison move continuously as they eat.
Females (cows) and adult males (bulls) generally live in small, separate bands and come together in very large herds during the summer mating season.
During this period, the bull blocks the cow’s vision so that she may not see other competing bulls,
and bellows at males striving for the cow’s attention.
Females give birth to one calf after a nine-month pregnancy.
Newborn calves have a reddish, light brown coat and lack the distinctive hump of the adult bison.They begin turning brown and developing the hump after a few months.
Bison once covered the Great Plains and much of North America, and were critically important to Plains Indian societies.
During the 19th century, settlers killed some 50 million bison for food, sport, and to deprive Native Americans of their most important natural asset.
Of the remaining American bison population, approximately 500,000 individuals are managed in human care as livestock by private commercial ventures, while conservation herds are comprised of around 30,000 individuals.