A Symbol of the American West

Happy Independence Day American readers!
WP_20140523_10_27_43_ProSince I’m working in Yellowstone National Park for the summer, and it’s the fourth of July I thought I would do a small post on what I consider to be the most American animal; the Bison. Many people always ask if they are called bison or buffalo, and the answer is both. Bison bison is the scientific name for the animal, but buffalo is a cultural term that was created when we began to move out west. Most often the word buffalo is used informally, and bison is used for more scientific purposes. I actually say both quite often! I usually use bison for one animal, and buffalo for a group of them. Yellowstone’s bison are one of the few wild herds in the United states and roam freely in and out of the park. Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

Generations of bisons rub their horns on a lot of the Lodgepole Pine trees.
Generations of bisons rub their horns on a lot of the Lodgepole Pine trees.

The Lacey Act was inspired from Yellowstone’s bison; the Lacey Act prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. “Yellowstone’s bison were reduced by poaching from as many as one thousand in 1872, to about two dozen animals in 1902. From that small herd has grown the two large herds now occupying Yellowstone National Park. Many people consider the protection and recovery of bison in Yellowstone to be one of the great triumphs of American conservation.”

A male bison can stand up to 6 feet tall and weigh close to 2,000 pounds. A female is just slightly smaller and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Both sexes have horns, and determining between the two can be difficult. One way to try to identify the males from the females is the males usually have a wider head than the females. Rut, or breeding season, begins late July and August and the males begin to show off for the females by head-butting each other in a show of dominance. Surprisingly bison are very agile swimmers, fast runners (up to 35 mph), can jump high (up to 5 ft), and have great eyesight and hearing.
Living around bison has been interesting, and has been a good lesson in patience. The law is that you cannot be within 25 yards of most of the park’s wildlife, so sometimes, you have to wait for them to move out of the road or away from your front window.  Thankfully bison eat/graze 9-11 hours a day. So food is always on their mind and they will eventually move away to find some nicer grass. Yellowstone’s bison are often unappreciated from park visitors, and very often disrespected by getting to close too.
However, I find them to be my favorite animal here.

Can you guess what movie this quote is from?

One thought on “A Symbol of the American West

  1. I’m hoping (nearly expecting) to see at least a few bison on visits to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Badlands, Wind Cave, and Theodore Roosevelt later this summer. I agree they’re probably the most American among our large mammals.

    Speaking of approaching wldlife…when I visited Rocky Mountain last summer I watched some idiot got within a few feet of a large bull moose that was foraging in a creek. It didn’t take long for a ranger to show up and get him to back off. A lot of people don’t seem to realize it’s not necessary to get close to get a good look. Bridge cameras with 40x zoom or telephoto lenses for DSLRs are a lot cheaper than NPS fines or hospital bills after getting trampled or gored.

    Liked by 1 person

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