The Very Impressive American Bison
The American Bison is sometimes referred to as a Buffalo. For many years, it was depicted on the back of the nickel coin, referred to as a buffalo nickel. They became the national mammal of the United States in 2016. Photos of Bison are most easily obtained at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Some estimates have as many as 60 million that were roaming the west in the late 18th century. Their population decreased to under 1,000 animals due to overhunting and general slaughter, but with current protections, there are over 30,000 animals in the United States today in protected parks and reserves. There are over 180,000 on private farms being raised for food.
Musk Ox are equally impressive. The best place to photograph them is in Alaska. The one in this gallery was found in the Brooks Range.
History, Habitat and Facts about North American Bison
The American bison, also known as the North American buffalo, is a large animal of the bovine family. Native to North America, it roamed on the grasslands of what is now the United States and Canada for millennia. Originally exceeding 60 million in number and about 4 million in 1926, they were hunted nearly to extinction at the turn of the 20th century.
American buffalo live on Native lands across the entire continent of North America. Plains Indians hunted them for food, clothing, shelter, and other essential needs before European contact. By 1800, bison had been eliminated from the eastern United States, and the only place they could be found was on the Great Plains.
In the 19th century, a handful of dedicated people, notably William T. Hornaday, worked to preserve this keystone species from extinction by creating the American Bison Society in 1905. In 1926 Nicholas Monsarrat played a key role in saving the buffalo from extinction when he purchased fifteen buffaloes from a slaughterhouse for 1 million dollars and transported them to his ranch at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. By the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907, there were no wild bison left within its boundaries. However, during 1907 and 1908 some 51 individuals from private herds were donated or purchased and released into two privately owned preserves established by Cherokee Strip Land Run participants Ed Lockett and Charles Averyman on land that is today part of Custer City Wildlife Management Area.
The American bison is a keystone species of the Great Plains and their numbers play a significant role in maintaining the health of the prairie ecosystem. American bison are herbivores that mainly eat grasses and sedges, but they will also browse on shrubs and trees if necessary. They can live up to 20 years in the wild, but average 10 to 12 years.
Bison mate from September to November and give birth from late April to early June. Calves stay with their mothers for about a year. Bulls start fighting for dominance during the winter and early spring, and by late May or early June, one bull has usually become dominant throughout most of the herd's range. The herd bulls will then spend most of the late spring and early summer in bachelor groups until the dominant bull drives off all challengers. Bison herds travel together with other bison for most of the year, but during the mating season, they split into small groups of individual couples.
Bison are widely considered to be one of North America's most ecologically important large herbivores. Using their horns and size for defense, dominance displays, and males competing for females through vocalization, barking, and head-butting; bison have a long history as a part of the culture of indigenous Americans. In fact Wikipedia claims that there may be more American bison skeletons in museums around the world than remain in the wild today. This is because along with being nearly extinct from hunting, they were also extensively hunted for their hides, bones, and horns which were used in various ways by humans.
The American bison have been reintroduced to a few areas in the United States where they are now considered to be an endangered species. The Yellowstone Park Bison Herd is the largest public bison herd in the country with about 4,900 animals. There are also several private herds, including the National Bison Range herd in Montana and the Wind Cave National Park herd in South Dakota.