Here at Wildwood Zoo. we have a small herd of seven bison. Prince, our bison bull, is the largest and oldest of the herd. He was born in May of 2000 right here at the zoo. He has been neutered so he will not have the large, humped shoulders that a male bison usually gets. The rest of the herd is made up of younger females.
Bison became the national mammal on May 9, 2016. They are the heaviest land animals in North America and can stand 5-6.5 feet tall at the shoulder. Despite their massive size, over 2,000 pounds, bison are quick on their feet. When the need arises they can run at speeds up to 40 miles an hour. They have curved sharp horns that may grow to be two feet long. A bison's thick fur offers great protection against the harsh elements of the American plains. Females (cows) and adult males (bulls) generally live in small, separate bands but come together in very large herds during the summer mating season. Bison once covered the Great Plains and much of North America, and were critically important to Plains Indian societies. During the 19th century, settlers killed around 50 million bison for food, sport, and to deprive Native Americans of their most important natural asset. The once enormous herds were reduced to only a few hundred animals. Today, bison numbers have rebounded somewhat, and about 200,000 bison live on preserves and ranches where they are raised for their meat.
Range and Habitat
Though bison once roamed across much of North America, today they are “ecologically extinct” as a wild species throughout most of their historic range, except for a few national parks and other small wildlife areas. American bison like open plains, savannas and grasslands.
Males battle for mating priority, but such contests rarely turn dangerous. In the spring, females give birth to one calf after a nine-month gestation. Calves’ hair is an orangey-brown color. Mothers are very protective of their young. The babies can weigh up to 66 pounds at birth and are able to run after three hours. Bison calves nurse for up to a year and reach adult size by age six.
In the wild: 10-15 years
In human care: 20-25 years
The American bison is an herbivore, feeding mostly on grasses, sedges, and forbs. Herds help keep grasslands healthy as they graze on meadow sedges, trample weeds, and help prune plants. Since they move continuously while eating, they rarely overgraze an area. Their intensive and sporadic grazing also supports a healthy landscape for many other American wildlife species. They regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before final digestion.