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North American Bison

Bison Bison

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

At Woburn Safari Park we have a large herd of North American Bison. They can be seen in their large 16 acre paddock on your drive through to the ticket lane before your entry to the Safari Park. Woburn have kept Bison for over a hundred years!!

Distribution
US National parks/reserves
Habitat
Grassland and meadow
Height
Up to 195 cm at the shoulder
Weight
545 to 818 kg
Gestation Period
9 to 10 months
Lifespan
25 Years
Threats
Overhunting in the 19th century resulted in near extinction

Social Behaviour

Adult females live with their young in herds of around 60 individuals which are led by a dominant female. Most young males will form small bachelor herds but dominant males will live a solitary life joining the female herd during the mating season. Daily movements of the Bison herd average around 5 kilometers with a group circulating in a home range of between 30 to 100 square kilometers in size depending on the season.  In addition, certain populations will make large scale migrations moving up to 150 miles from higher, more northern areas to sheltered valleys and lowlands in the autumn and back again in the spring.  

Breeding Behaviour

Dominant males will join female herds during the mating season which last from June to September. Male Bison will fight fiercely for the right to breed and these fights can result in death. The males will partake in head to head ramming and the female in oestrus will gallop about to simulate competition as she will want to mate with the strongest male. During breeding season males are vocal and able to bellow and roar loud enough to be heard 3 miles away. After a gestation period of between 270 to 300 days a female will give birth to a single calf. After around 3 hours the new born calves are able to run about and keep up with the herd. Their mothers are extremely protective and they will charge any intruders that pose a threat. The calves are weaned at 5 to 6 months of age and will reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years of age.

Diet

North American Bison are primarily grazers and they will forage primarily on open grassland. Grasses and sedges form the mainstay of their annual diet however they will also eat flowering plants, woody plant leaves and lichens depending on the availability. Bison will push snow out of the way at foraging sites by sweeping it away using side to side motions of their muzzle.

Physical Features

North American Bison have a long shaggy dark brown coat on their shoulders, neck and front legs. The hair on the remainder of their body is considerably shorter and lighter. Calves are born a light reddish brown colour but this will generally darken by 6 months of age. Their shoulders are large and their heads rest low on their short necks. Their foreheads are broad with short up curving horns which are present in both sexes. The hair on their forehead is woolly and curly and they also have a beard under their chin.

Threats

North America was once home to around 40 million Bison providing a sustainable source of meat as well as hides for shelter and clothes for many of the native people. This however changed due to the overhunting during the westward expansion of the European settlement in the 19th century. It resulted in the decimation of the Bison population and by the late 1800s they were near extinct. Conservationists launched a national recovery campaign that included the implementation of new legislation that would protect the remaining wild herds. Due to the recovery efforts the Bison population has risen but the vast majority are held in captive stocks with only a small number in free ranging herds. Numerous threats are still putting pressure on both captive and wild populations including habitat loss, reduction in genetic diversity, cross breeding with domestic cattle and the culling of dispersing wild bison to prevent the spread of bovine diseases.

 

 

Fun Facts

On the thick shaggy coat of a Bison an individual hair can be up to 50 cm long!

Grooming is a very frequent activity among Bison. They will rub themselves on trees until all of the bark has been torn off and the trunk left smooth. Here at Woburn we provide our herd of Bison with big tree logs to allow them to have a good scratch and remove any loose, dead hair.

Bison are surprisingly agile, they are able to run at speeds of up to 30 mph.

Our Bison at Woburn love to roll around in big piles of dirt however, due to the large hump on the top of their shoulders they can’t roll all the way over and have to get up and switch sides!