When you think about our national parks, what do you think about? Many people will say the wildlife. Our national parks contain some amazing animals – on land, in the water, or even in our skies! One of these amazing animals really awed me the first time seeing them – bison!
When you think about the American West, you can’t help but think about the American bison.
I will never forget driving into Yellowstone National Park and seeing my first herd of bison there. They are such large, beautiful creatures. American male bison weigh around 2,000 pounds! Also, did you know that these huge mammals can run up to 35 mph?
It’s also pretty cool to think that these bison have lived in Yellowstone continuously since prehistoric times. Millions used to roam North America along all parts of it.
So, are they called bison or buffalo? Americans often refer to these creatures as buffalo. Technically, they are bison. Bison fall into the same scientific family group as the Asian water buffalo and the African cape buffalo. Back when European explorers came to America and saw the bison and thought that they looked similar to the Old World buffalo, so started calling them buffalo. Yet, technically they are bison here in America. Buffalo in Africa and Asia do not have a large hump by their shoulders that the bison have here.
The American bison have endured many challenges over the years. In particular, hunting and poaching dwindled their numbers down to about two dozen left. Over many years, national park employees worked hard to bring the bison numbers back up in Yellowstone and avoid extinction. These great animals still face challenges today, but the goals still exist to protect and best manage these mammals.
In 2016, bison were declared our national mammal because they are a symbol of wild America, an important part of our heritage, and a key player in an ecosystem that’s much larger than a national park.
During your next trip to Yellowstone National Park, remember that bison are wild animals. According to the NPS, bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal there. Stay at least 25 yards away from bison (if not more) as these great creatures can be unpredictable and run fast!
I can’t wait to see this great creature again out in the wild and roaming through the valleys of Yellowstone National Park!