American bison, or Bison bison, are tremendous mammals that live in the Great Plains. These animals can be about 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder. They have curved sharp horns that can be 2 feet long. Bison live in herds, and if spooked, they can run up to 40 mph in a stampede. Bison eat grasses, herbs, shrubs, and twigs. Like a cow, they chew their food twice before finally digesting it. American Bison have deep, long, brown fur and grow a long beard and mane. They are always on the move, sometimes they even eat while walking. Bison often roll around in the dirt to make depressions in the dirt called wallows. They take dust baths in these and rub their horns on trees. If a bison survives to adulthood, it can live around 20 years, but young bison run a very high risk of dying in the winter.
Bison used to cover most of North America. There were massive herds covering the Great Plains and other areas. American Bison were very important to Native Americans, and they would use bison for many things. In the 1800s the bison population dropped to only hundreds of bison. This was mainly because of the settlers. The settlers killed more than 50 million bison. Some they killed for food, but most were for sport. Some bison were killed because the settlers wanted to deprive the Native Americans of the bison, which were critically important to them. The settlers wanted to hurt the Native Americans so they could steal their land. Also, the settlers brought cows that had new cattle diseases and took valuable space from the bison. Thankfully, because of work from conservationists, the bison population is on the rise. The only wild bison now live on national parks or reserves, but about 500,000 bison are raised for their meat. While American bison are coming back, they are still endangered and they are an example of how quickly an animal with huge numbers can start going extinct.
Image courtesy of Chloe Leis
American Bison nearly going extinct affected a lot of people and species. It affected Native Americans because they relied on the bison for a lot of things. It also hurt predators of the bison because they lost a valuable food source. Bison also selectively graze the grass, eating from patches instead of only in one place. This helps keep the diversity of plants. They also leave hoofprints that can sometimes bury seeds, and their natural instinct to never stop moving ensures that they don’t damage the environment around them, unlike farms, which stay in the same place.
If you are lucky enough to live near a place where you can see bison, don’t go up to them and interfere with their life. Let the bison live. Try to spread the word about what happened to the American Bison. Tell people how quickly an animal's population can fall. Make sure that if you know of an animal who is becoming endangered, try and tell people that it is a serious problem. Many times, like with the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon, people think that because there are so many animals they would never go extinct, no matter how much people hunt them. The bison is an example of how wrong that is. In the bison’s case, thankfully, the population is going up, but for some animals, like the passenger pigeon and the dodo bird, humans thinking that animals are unlimited is the reason they are now extinct.
"Photo Ark: Animals: American Bison." National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/american-bison/. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.
"American Bison." The National Wildlife Federation, www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/American-Bison. Accessed 22 Mar. 2020.
"American Bison." Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/american-bison.
*all pictures used with permission, and/or taken from the sites above.