Bison, the huge powerful cow like things with a mythical history in North America. Renee and I were both excited to see these famous American creatures and the National Bison Range in Montana provided us with our first opportunity.
Are bison and buffalo the same we pondered as we drove to the National Bison Range in the early hours of the morning. We were one of the first vehicles to arrive and the visitor’s centre had not yet opened so we proceeded onto the longer loop of the range. There are a couple of different driving paths you can take on your ‘self driven’ safari, however if you’re in one of those massive RV’s you will be restricted from one of the loops. The range is a mix of forested areas, hills and flat grassy plains covering approximately 6,300 acres. We wound our way up the right hand side of a hill, driving slowly on the dirt road with our windows down and our heads stuck out in search of bison. Their big creatures with huge heads, horns and thick mane like fur covering their head, shoulders and front legs but thinning off towards their rear. Like a lion or even a poodle but without the ridiculous baubles around the ankles. Their big, so why hadn’t we spotted any yet we wondered…
We spotted a few deer as we kept winding our way up the hill, we passed into woodland and finally Renee spotted our first bison. A big bugger, male I presumed, lying by himself underneath a tree. We stopped and started snapping photographs.
[slickr-flickr tag="bull_tree" type="slideshow" size="medium"]
Later in the range after we’d descended from the hills and were on the grassy flatlands we spotted large herds of bison, hundreds perhaps. One inquisitive bison came really close to our camper van and I have to admit I was a little worried it might charge us. We snapped more photos before eventually moving on. The National Bison Range provided a fantastic opportunity for us to spot our first American bisons and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen bison yet and is in the vicinity.
[slickr-flickr tag="plains_herd" type="slideshow" size="medium"]
On a final note I understand many of the native American Indians use to rely on the bison (same thing as a buffalo!) for their survival, they were crucial to the American Indian way of life and highly regarded spiritually.
I dug up some interesting American bison/buffalo facts from Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_bison] for you:
- “The heaviest wild bull ever recorded weighed 2,800 pounds (1,300 kg).”
- “Bison were described as having “wild and ungovernable temper”; they can jump 6 feet vertically, and run in excess of 30 mph when agitated. In combination with their weight, that makes bison herds difficult to confine, because they can jump over or crash through almost any fence.”
- “Bison once numbered in the tens of millions and ranged from Alaska to Mexico” [http://www.wcs.org/saving-wildlife/hoofed-mammals/bison/the-american-bison-society.aspx]
- “The US Army sanctioned and actively endorsed the wholesale slaughter of bison herds. The US federal government promoted bison hunting for various reasons, to allow ranchers to range their cattle without competition from other bovines, and primarily to weaken the North American Indian population by removing their main food source and to pressure them onto the reservations. Without the bison, native people of the plains were forced either to leave the land or starve to death.”
- “By 1884, the American bison was close to extinction.”
Through a combination of conservation efforts such as the National Bison Range we visited and commercial farming for meat and fur North American bison populations are thought to be around the half million mark today. However genetic studies have shown that many bison have mixed with domestic cattle populations and it is estimated that as few as 12,000 to 15,000 pure bison currently exist.