Can you see the bison,
which once roamed far and free?
Now there’s half a million,
but once neither could we.
The American bison, colloquially known as the buffalo, is a massive relative of the cattle weighing up to 2,000 lb. This makes it the largest land animal in the Americas. Bison have distinctive shaggy brown coats, and males have particularly enormous heads and a hump over their shoulders. While the bison is now the United States' mammal emblem, there was a time when it had almost gone extinct.
Before the start of the 19th century, more than 50 million bison roamed across North American forests and plains. Over the next 100 years, they were subject to a government-supported hunting program that aimed to remove the bison as a food source of native Americans. Only 1 in 150,000 bison remained – a decline similar to if the entire human population was reduced to the capacity of Dodger Stadium. At the time such a drastic decline was unheard of, and concerns that the species may be lost forever sparked the formation of the American Bison Society in 1905.
Two years later, the translocation of 15 animals to the Bronx Zoo in New York marked the first active conservation efforts for this species, and among the first for any species. Since then, bison have been bred in captive and free-ranging populations around the world. Now half a million bison live, with all but 19,000 of these existing in captivity or under significant management. While this is less than 1% of what they once numbered, it is remarkable that this species has persisted at all.
Range & Habitat
The American bison once roamed across most of North America, from forests in Canada and Alaska to grassy plains in the lower States. At their lowest point in 1900, bison remained only in a handful of tiny herds, with a final stronghold of a couple hundred bison in Alberta, Canada. Now, bison exist in as many as 68 conservation herds, of which only about 20 are wild, scattered across fragments of their original range.
How Can I Help?
You can help support the amazing work of zoos like the Bronx Zoo by purchasing a ticket. You can also support conservation efforts of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who recently re-launched the American Bison Society and currently manage five zoos including the Bronx Zoo! Click on the button below to find out more!