Wood Bison.
Wood Bison.

American Bison

The American bison, also known as the American buffalo, or sometimes just buffalo is a large bovine mammal that once roamed North America in huge numbers but has been hunted to near extinction at one point.

Bison meat was one of the most important food source for a large population of humans living in North America in the pre-Columbian era. Some authors, such as Jared Diamond, claim that bison cannot be domesticated, yet a large portion of the American bison alive today are living as a sort of domesticated cattle. The fact that most bison have been interbred with cattle probably helps, but the claim that they are inherently impossible to domesticate does not sound believable.

Wood Bison.

Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), one of the two recognized subspecies of the American bison,
in the Canadian Domain exhibit of the Toronto Zoo.

Even in relatively urban areas, such as Toronto, one can by bison meat, if nothing else hamburgers made of bison, in grocery stores which is nearly always produced from captive bred bison herds, not wild animals.

Interbreeding with cattle threatens the purity of the bison population. It is remarkable that these animals can produce fertile offspring at all, since they are not even classified in the same genus — just goes to show that taxonomic categories don’t mean much.

The near extinction of the American bison is a shining example of how barbaric we humans can be. Once the buffalo roamed by the millions so how come that it ended up at the brink of extinction? Well, we humans killed nearly all of them. Even the human population whose very food source depended on it slaughtered bison indiscriminately, often chasing entire herds over a cliff, killing far more animals than they could consume. Barbaric as that practice was, it pales in comparison to the wholesale extermination of the bison population by white men. The magnificent bison were shot by the thousand, just for sport, often without any intention of using any part of the animal, or only taking the tongue from each carcass.

At least the bison did not share the fate of the passenger pigeon, and enough of them remained alive to re-establish a population.

The American bison is a formidable beast that is wary of humans — can anyone blame them after we humans nearly killed them all? Caution is advised, an attacking bison can seriously injure a person, and in fact bison inflicted injuries happen more often than injuries from bear attacks, although both are rare.

So if you see bison in the wild leave them alone, and give them some space.

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Last updated: July 29, 2015

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