Saturday, October 3, 2009
2. Once, 50 million bison roamed the Great Plains of North America, but an 1887 census found that the plains bison were reduced to 541 individuals by overhunting. Conservation efforts saved the bison from the brink of extinction, but the fraction that remain are either captive or come from captive stock.
3. Today, about 200,000 bison live on preserves and ranches where they are raised for their meat.
4. The bison is the largest land mammal native to the Western Hemisphere, reaching heights of over 6 feet and weighing 750 to 2200 pounds. Its bulk, however, does not slow it down. American bison can reach speeds of up to 37 mph.
5. Bison graze in large herds consisting of females and their young, and are controlled by a dominant female. Males live apart and only enter the female herds during mating season, when the males fight over access to females.
6. Both male and female bison have horns.
7. Bison feed on plains grasses, herbs, shrubs, and twigs. They regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before final digestion.
8. In winter, Bison use their head and hooves to find food beneath the snow.
9. Despite its seemingly slow, lethargic movements, the bison can outrun a human and leap over barbed wire fences. In Yellowstone, it has killed or injured four times as many people as bears have.
10. Bison have shaggy, brownish-black hair on the head, neck, shoulders and forelegs; lighter brown hair on the hindquarters. Young calves are red in color and darken by the time they are about four months old.
11. The bison's thick, shaggy coat is so well insulated that snow can settle on its back without melting.
12. Bison mate from June to September, with a gestation of 270 to 280 days. Calves are nursed for 7 to 8 months and are fully weaned by one year.
13. Females reach sexual maturity in 2 to 3 years, males in 3 years.
14. Bison live 15 to 20 years in the wild, although they have been known to live up to 40 years in captivity.
15. Adult bison have few natural predators. Their horns, strong hooves, large size and speed are effective weapons of self-defense against wolf packs and even bears.
Sources: National Geographic; Discovery; National Park Service
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