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FortWhyte Alive

Hot on the Trail: Bison

030603 new bison -wg



In the last month, we've had 3 new bison calves join our herd at FortWhyte Alive, make sure you visit to say hello!

Scientific Name: Bison bison



Bison, commonly called buffalo, have dark brown fur that is thickest on the head and gradually gets shorter towards the rump.  There is a distinct hump on the back and both male (bulls) and female (cows) bison have short, dark, upwardly curved horns.  Adults measure approximately 1.5 to 2m (5 to 6 ½ ft) tall at the shoulders, with the bulls being larger than the cows.  Their body weights range from 360 to 540 kg (790 to 1200 lbs) in females and 460 to 1000 kg (990 to 2200 lbs) in males. That’s as much as a small car!
Food Sources
Bison’s diet consists of buffalo grass, blue grama, wheatgrass, needle and thread, reed grasssedges, and twigs from scrubland bushes.  Bison have a greater digestive ability than cattle, being able to breakdown tough plant cellulose more efficiently. Recent studies have shown that grazing by bison increases the diversity of plant species in tall-grass prairie plots: this is presumably due to the fact that bison preferentially eat dominant grass species, giving other plants a chance to colonize.



Mating occurs in July and August and a single calf is born 9 ½ months later.  Calves have cinnamon coloured fur and weigh between 23 and 27 kg (50 to 60 lbs) at birth.  They are able to stand and nurse within 30 minutes after being born and are able to walk in a few hours.  The hump and horns begin to develop at the age of 2 months and are weaned at about 5 months.



Wild bison in North America once numbered 60 million, but over-hunting and habitat loss decreased their population to approximately 500 animals in 1900.  Killed for their horns, fur, or just for sport, it seemed that this animal was destined for extinction.  With the help of conservationists, the few remaining were protected and their population grew rapidly. 
-Ranger Rachel 

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