The American bison, also known as the American buffalo,
is the more common of the only two extant species of
bison. American bison once lived in plains and forests
in North America, numbering in millions. Since facing
extinction in the 19th century because of the commercial
hunting, bison have shrunk dramatically in numbers;
they now exist mostly in national parks and reserves.
About 30,000 bison are recognized as existing by the
IUCN's standards, only around 15,000 of which are considered
wild due to their free-range environment.
Bison are normally about 7-12 feet long and usually
measure 5-6 feet tall from the shoulder. They weigh
700-2,200 pounds on average, though the heaviest wild
bison recorded weighed 2,800 pounds. Male bison are
somewhat larger than females, and often weigh considerably
more. Their heads and forequarters are the largest part
of their body, all of which is covered in a coat of
long, brown fur. All bison have relatively short, curved
horns that are used for self-defense or in intraspecific
fighting, in which male bison engage to assert their
Bison travel in herds that are divided by sex; female
bison tend to form maternal herds that may contain male
infants or very old males, and male bison either live
alone or join herds of other males after leaving the
herd into which they were born at the age of about three.
The two sexes almost never interact with each other
outside of breeding season, at which time dominant males
will each guard a small herd of females that will mate
exclusively with him. The order in which their offspring
are born is important, because both herds have social
hierarchies based on birth order; bison born earlier
in the breeding season are more likely to be larger
as adults and therefore tend to be dominant.
The wolf is the only natural predator of the bison.
Even though wolves may prey on bison, they normally
target infants, as fully-grown bison are often difficult
to vanquish; in tandem with their great size and strength,
bison can jump up to six feet high, run at speeds of
up to 40 miles per hour, and can be aggressive when
provoked. However, despite their potential for physical
dominance over other organisms, bison are herbivores
and dedicate a large portion of their time to grazing.
Bison are migratory, and constantly move about in search
of food. The direction of their travels depend on the
season, types of vegetation available, and the availability
of water, but the span is typically large. Bison have
been recorded as traveling an average of two miles per
American bison have historically been a symbol throughout
North America. Bison appear on several state flags in
the United States, are the official mammal of multiple
states, appear on several U.S. coins, and serve as the
mascot for several sports teams, universities, and even
Ralph Nader's 2008 presidential campaign. Bison also
appear on the coat of arms of the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police, and are the official animals of Manitoba, appearing
on the province's flag.
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