Bison Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Jon Hadley

Mary Jon has taught in an elementary school for nine years, and am currently working on my doctorate in curriculum, instruction and assessment.

We have often heard about huge herds of buffalo that used to roam the plains in North America. Actually, buffalo do not even live in the United States, but bison do. For many years, people have confused bison for buffalo. Let's find out more about the bison.

What is a Bison?

A bison is a member of the same family as cows, goats and sheep. Their hooves are split into two hooves on each foot. This allows them to move quickly and walk on rocky areas. Bison are mammals like you, with dark brown hair covering their entire body. They have thicker hair around their shoulders and head.

There are two types of bison: American bison and European bison. If you look closely at both animals you will see that the American bison is much hairier than the European bison, with heavy, bulky hair around its head and shoulders. Other than that they look very similar don't they?

A picture of an American bison and a European bison

American Bison or European Bison?

So what is the difference between the American and European bison? The American bison's head hangs low to the ground because they spend most of their day grazing on grasses. The European Bison does not eat as much throughout the day, and are taller and slimmer than the American Bison. Both animals are considered to be the heaviest surviving wild land animal in both Europe and America. An adult bull bison weighs about 1 ton, which is similar to the weight of a young hippopotamus. The American Bison stands from five feet tall at the shoulders to over six feet tall. The European bison is even taller than that!!

A Little Bison History

The American bison used to number in the millions, until European settlers came and killed them for sport, leaving only a few hundred alive. Today, there are around 200,000 American bison living on ranches, or preserves where they are protected. Only about 5,000 still live in the wild.

The European bison had similar problems of being over-hunted. They became extinct in the wild during the early 1900s, which means there were none left. They were later reintroduced into the wild from animals that had been in captivity. They now live in forests, and have very few predators, other than people. They were on the endangered animals list, but have grown in number, so they are now only on the vulnerable animals list. They still have a long way to go to be considered thriving.

Picture of an American Bison and her calf

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