Wood Bison courtesy of Doug Lindstrand

What do you call lending money to a buffalo? A buff-a-loan!

Wondering why we made this joke when it’s bison month not buffalo? We wanted to explain the difference between the two!

Bison: live only in North America (a small population of relatives live in Poland), a member of the Bovidae family, has a large shoulder hump and massive head, and lots of hair.
Buffalo: the two main species live in Africa and Asia, a member of the Bovidae family also known as ungulates, large rounded horns, and no hump or thick hair.

Plains Bison courtesy of Ron Henggeler

At the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, we have the wood bison. Wood bison are larger than the plains bison found in the central part of North America. Wood bison tend be larger than the typical plains bison. Wood bison also have curlier hair and a square-shaped hump – both good for working through the snow to find grass and mosses to eat during winter. Plains bison have a rounded hump and a “cape” of hair which hangs around their shoulders. Plains bison do live in the northern tundra, wood bison are just better adapted physically for the climate challenges.

Water Buffalo courtesy of Doug Engle

In May of 2016, President Barrack Obama officially declared the bison as the United States’ National Mammal – and the bald eagle being the National Animal. When it became official, the world created National Bison Month to celebrate and preserve the beautiful and majestic animal.

Relatives to woolly mammoths, bison survived the Ice Age. They also survived over-hunting in the 1800’s when bison became incredibly endangered. By persistence and conservation, the bison population now thrives at over 400,000. This is due to both the ranch boom of the later 1800’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s help. In 1905, Roosevelt formed the American Bison Society to help save the disappearing species. Bison now live in all 50 states and roam free in over half.

African Buffalo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Buffalo, however, are more related to cows than they are to the woolly mammoth. The cow is present in both species – buffalo and bison. In another attempt to save the bison during the 1900’s, ranchers mated bison and cows, bringing the bison one step closer to buffalo relations. Though the bison-cow relations ended soon after beginning, cow genes are still present in the bison of today.

Bison and buffalo live to be about 20 years old. Female bison, or cows, begin breeding at 2 and male bison, or bulls, don’t breed until 6. Buffalo are the opposite where the bulls begin breeding at 3 and the cows don’t breed until 6. Both species have a gestation period of approximately 9-11 months. Calves are born one per cow per season, and bison calves have the nickname “red dog” for their reddish coloring. Within a year the calves begin to brown and grow horns and shaggy fur.

*Feature photo courtesy of American Expedition
*Information taken from the sources below:
– 15 Facts About Our National Mammal: The American Bison.
– Bradford, Alina. 2014, July 31. Buffalo Facts: Water Buffalo & Cape Buffalo. https://www.livescience.com/27409-buffalo.html
– Bryner, Jeanna. (2012, September 6). Bison vs. Buffalo: What’s the Difference?  https://www.livescience.com/32115-bison-vs-buffalo-whats-the-difference.html
– Lewis, Danny.  (2016, May 9). The Bison is Now the Official Mammal of the United States. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/bison-now-official-mammal-united-states-180958921/

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