AMP | Kids is proud to partner with The Mini Page, celebrating over 50 years of providing engaging and fun learning opportunities to young readers across the country. This feature was originally syndicated in newspapers the week of July 25 – July 31, 2020. It is distributed digitally here with permission from Andrews McMeel Syndication. Enjoy and share with the young learners in your life!
Have you ever seen real bison? Perhaps you call them buffalo. Most people do. Early settlers called bison “buffalo,” and the name stuck.
But North America’s largest land animal is not a member of the Asian or African buffalo family. The American bison is a close relative of cattle.
There are herds at some national parks and refuges. Many Indian reservations and ranches also have herds. Let’s learn more about these iconic American animals.
Herds of bison
Experts say there were about 60 million bison in America when the Europeans first arrived. By the 1880s, the settlers had killed all but about 500. Bison were nearly extinct.
Today, bison live in all 50 states, on both private and public lands. With a population of around 350,000, they are no longer endangered.
This painting, “Indians Hunting the Bison,” was created by Karl Bodmer in 1839.
Meet the bison
There are two subspecies of bison: the plains bison and the wood bison. The wood bison is generally larger.
Male bison, or bulls, weigh up to a ton (2,000 pounds) and may be 6 feet tall. Bison cows weigh around 1,100 pounds and are 4 to 5 feet tall.
Baby bison are sometimes called “red dogs” because their fur is reddish in color when they’re born. When they’re a few months old, their fur starts to turn dark brown and the characteristic hump begins to grow.
Native Americans and bison
Native Americans thought the bison to be sacred animals. They hunted the large animals for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. The Plains Indians needed the bison to survive.
For example, people built tepees and used bison skins to cover the poles. They ate the animals’ meat and used the fat for fuel.
Today, bison meat is becoming more popular. You may see bison burgers or steaks on menus or in the grocery store.
Ranchers say they like raising bison because they require less care than cattle. Bison calves are more likely to survive than beef calves because they are born later in the year, after blizzards are no longer a threat. In addition, bison can eat tougher grasses than cattle and can forage for grass under snow.
The biggest wild free-roaming herd of bison in the world is at Yellowstone National Park. There are almost 5,000 bison in the Yellowstone herd. About 100 years ago, in the early 1900s, the park had only about 23 of them.
People love to view these majestic animals. But they can also be very dangerous.
Like all wild animals, bison are unpredictable. Although they appear gentle, bison can get upset fast if people get too close. If the animal is moving away from you, watching you carefully or reacting in any way to your presence, you are too close.
Bison can run up to 30 mph. A 2,000-pound charging bison is very dangerous. Keep at least 25 yards away.
On the Web:
National Park Service
At the Library:
American Bison by Steve Potts
The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
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