When selecting Halloween costumes, we’ve frequently looked to our travels for inspiration. National Park rangers and Lewis and Clark were past crowd-pleasers. This year we looked to the animal kingdom and settled on a mammal we came across on several occasions during the past year from Oklahoma to Yellowstone to North Dakota … the American bison.
While people often use the terms bison and buffalo interchangeably, the bison we know are actually a separate species and only distantly related to buffalo which are found in Africa and Asia. The average bison weighs between 930 and 2,200 pounds and they have a life expectancy of 12 to 24 years. Although they are the heaviest land mammals on the continent, they are surprisingly fast and agile. They can run at up to 40 mph and jump 6 feet straight up in the air. This behavior must be quite rare, since not a single bison we witnessed this year looked to be in much of a hurry at all.
The habitat range of bison in North America before European settlement extended from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and from the central Canadian plains to northern Mexico with a population around 60 million. Over-hunting and disease reduced their numbers to just 750 animals by 1890. Today there are approximately 500,000 in North America, mostly in national parks and on private ranches where many are raised for their meat, because they also happen to be delicious.