American bison

Hunted almost to extinction, they were the first species to be reintroduced to nature

Jack Dykinga

Before America was colonized, there were 60 million American bison. Next thing you know, they almost became extinct in the 19th century due to commercial hunting, slaughter, and the introduction of bovine diseases from increasingly distributed domestic cattle. Later, bison were reintroduced to the US, and now there are 20,000 wild bison and close to half a million bison raised as livestock.

Their mood can be judged through their tails. When the tail hags down and switches naturally, indicating that they are calm if the tail is standing straight up, beware!


Population est.
United States
Possibly Extinct: Texas
United States
Reintroduced: Alaska

Recent updates

  • 2023: According to All About Bison, as the US government extends significant support to Native tribes, a plan has been put in place to relocate the existing bison population, ensuring their welfare and preventing any harm in the process.

Did you know?

  • The National Bison Legacy Act signed into law on May 9, 2016, designated North America’s Largest Mammal, the American bison as the nation’s official symbol and national mammal.
  • Despite not yet becoming extinct in the wild, they have become ecologically extinct due to a lack of genetic variation required to keep their population alive and lower numbers in herds. 
  • Only 10 states in the United States categorize American bison as wildlife, either whole or in part. In other words, bison are legally considered livestock in the United States.
  • In North America, 4,000 farms and ranches commercially breed about half-million American bison, those are kept for meat production and play no role as wildlife or in conservation.
  • Bison and domestic cattle separated from a common ancestor roughly three million years ago; however, all American bison have low but considerable amounts of domestic cattle DNA due to hybridization. This occurred in a bid to save bison on a handful of private ranches after European immigrants attempted to eliminate the species.
  • According to recent studies, bison increase the grassland ecosystem’s resistance to drought as they were once proven to be a keystone species in such ecosystems.
  • According to recent studies, bison increase the grassland ecosystem’s resistance to drought as they were once proven to be a keystone species in such ecosystems.
  • Bison have only existed consistently in the United States in Yellowstone National Park from ancient times until today.
  • American bison are named ‘Buffalo,’ and their newborn calves, which are normally born between late March and May, are called “red dogs” because of their initial orange-red color.
  • The national park service and the inter-tribal buffalo council (ITBC), which was established in 1992, collaborate to move bison from national park lands to the tribal territory. Bison is an integral part of these Tribes’ identity and they do not consider it as ‘cattle.’

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No

How did they disappear?

This mountain of buffalo skulls might give you some idea of how they could go from a few tens of million to few hundreds in 50 years.

One notable example is the intentional killing of buffalo by the U.S. Army to subjugate the Plains Indians. General Philip Sheridan, a military leader during the Indian Wars, reportedly stated, “Let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo is exterminated, as it is the only way to bring lasting peace and allow civilization to advance.”

American bison on banknotes

United States 10 Dollars (1901)