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The American Bison vs. The African and Asian Buffalo

The term "buffalo" is commonly misused to refer to the American bison (Bison bison). However, true buffalo are large bovine mammals native to Africa and Asia. This article clarifies the distinction between these two groups of animals. Click here for Goat Pregnancy Calculator.

American Bison

The American bison is an iconic animal native to North America. Also called the American buffalo, this bovine mammal played a vital role in Native American culture and history, especially for tribes of the Great Plains.

Some key facts about the American bison:

- Large, husky build with characteristic shoulder hump and shaggy coat

- Once populated the plains in large migratory herds, following food sources

- Almost driven to extinction in 19th century, but conservation efforts have increased numbers

- Closely related to cattle and belongs to Bovidae family

True African and Asian Buffalo

The term "buffalo" refers specifically to two different species in Africa and Asia:

African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

- Also called Cape buffalo, found throughout sub-Saharan Africa

- Massive horns and unpredictable, aggressive nature

- Social animal living in large herds with complex social structure

- One of the " Big Five " iconic African game animals

Asian Buffalo (Bubalus spp.)

- Main species are water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and wild Asian buffalo

- Water buffalo domesticated as livestock across Asia for agriculture

- Wild cousin (Bubalus arnee) lives in swamps and marshes 

Though commonly called buffalo, the American bison is a distinct species. True buffalo refers to the African Cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo/wild buffalo species.

The Habitats and Behaviors of African Buffalo vs. American Bison

African Buffalo Habitat and Behavior

The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is highly adaptable and resides in diverse environments across sub-Saharan Africa including:

- Savannas

- Grasslands

- Riverine forests

- Wetlands

Reliable access to water is key as they drink daily. These social bovines form large herds up to hundreds, led by dominant females. They are herbivorous grazers, consuming diverse grass species. While not territorial, they protect personal space. Some populations migrate seasonally for resources.

American Bison Habitat and Behavior

 The American bison (Bison bison) historically roamed North America's grasslands and plains in massive migratory herds. Their habitat today is restricted to:

- Grassland prairies

- Plains

- Protected parks and reserves

These very social animals gather in herds of varying sizes, led by dominant bulls. Bison are herbivores, grazing efficiently with specialized tongues and teeth. Historically migratory tracking food, some modern herds still exhibit seasonal movements.

Both the African buffalo and American bison play vital ecological roles through grazing and nutrient cycling. Their social behaviors and migrations are driven by needs for sustenance and suitable resources within their respective native habitats. Restrictions on historical habitats have constrained migratory patterns.

Gestation and Reproductive Behavior of the American Bison

American bison, often called buffalo, have a typical gestation period of about 9 months, similar to domestic cattle.

Breeding Season

Bison breed from late summer to early fall. Mature bulls compete with females for dominance and mating rights during this specific season.


Courtship shows with vocalizations allow dominant bulls to gain status in the herd and mating opportunities.

Birth and Calf Care

After gestation, female bison give birth to a single calf in late spring or early summer. The mother cares for and protects her newborn calf, which can stand and walk shortly after birth. The whole herd helps to care for the calves together.

Importance for Conservation

Successful bison reproduction is vital for population stability and expansion. While bison have recovered from near-extinction, conservation must be maintained to preserve genetics, habitats and manage disease.

In summary, understanding the 9-month gestation, seasonal reproductive behaviors, birth patterns, and shared care of calves is crucial to ongoing conservation efforts focused on sustaining American bison populations.



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