When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, 30 million buffalo or bison roamed the prairies from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains. By 1890, only 600 remained. Today, about 350,000 bison live in the United States on federal land and private ranches. These animals were rescued from extinction before it was too late.
- Bison are the largest mammals in North America. For thousands of years, they provided native people with food, skins, and materials to make tools.
- Bison were also an important source of food for early settlers.
- The coming of the railroad brought trouble to the bison. They were sometimes hit and killed by the trains, but more important, the trains brought professional hunters to the prairies. These hunters killed the bison by the millions. Their skins and meat could easily be shipped around the country by train.
- In the early 1900s, the first conservation areas were set aside for bison. People realized the animals were in danger of extinction and moved to help them.
- Today, bison no longer roam free, but they’re raised on protected lands. They are treated for diseases and vaccinated.
- Bison are related to domesticated cows. They can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and eat 30 pounds of grass each day.
- Bison generally move in herds, although solitary bison are common too.
- Bison, especially adult bulls, can be aggressive. They are not tame. If you see bison, move slowly and quietly away from them.
- Bison can run up to 35 mph and jump more than 7 feet. They are good swimmers.
Questions and Answers
Question: Are bison still used for food?
Answer: Yes, bison meat has less fat than ground beef and is a lean source of protein.
Visit the Nature Conservancy to learn more about bison.