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The American buffalo has been mislabeled for centuries. This large, grazing animal is actually not a buffalo at all. Rather, it is one of two species of oxlike mammals that constitute the genus Bison. The American bison, commonly known in America as the American buffalo or Plains buffalo, is native to North America. The European bison or Wisent, is native to Europe.

HISTORY
In the early 1800s, buffalo were killed off in great numbers to protect livestock and farmlands. During this same time, organized groups of hunters killed buffalo for hides and meat, taking as many as 250 buffalo a day. The construction of railroads across the plains areas of the United States further depleted the American buffalo population. Train runners advertised a new sport in weekly circulars: hunting from train windows. By 1883, northern and southern U.S. herds had been completely destroyed, and less than 300 buffalo remained in North America.

Thanks to National Parks, that made hunting buffalo illegal on state owned land in the early 1890s, and special government protection programs, the buffalo population has steadily increased during the last century.

APPEARANCE
The American buffalo has been the largest mammal in North America since the end of the Ice Age. This towering, bulky animal carries a head that is so heavy, it is not able to be raised to shoulder level.

The American buffalo is easily distinguished from other species by noting the large hump located between its shoulders and the heavy, unkempt beard dangling from its chin.

This animal has coarse, shaggy, dark colored fur that grows especially long on the head, neck and shoulder areas. A mature bull stands at 6-1/2 feet at the shoulders and often weighs more than 1, 900 pounds. The female, slightly smaller, is 5 feet tall and weighs 700 pounds. Both sexes bear short, upcurved horns.

CHARACTERISTICS
The American buffalo lives in small groups or "bands." This basic unit consists of one or more females and several generations of their own offspring. Adult males are known to live on the band's outer limits of travel, and often form their own small groups.


MATING
During their August mating season, bulls engage in head-butting contests to determine social dominance. The winner impregnates the female, who then gives birth to a single, tawny colored calf in May, nine months after gestation. Calves often nurse until they are nearly one year old, during which time, all members of the herd work to protect, provide for, and feed the young. Buffalo have an average lifespan of 20 years of age.

LIFESTYLE
American buffalo are not meat eaters. They roam in herds, eating grass, herbs, twigs and leaves. Their gait is a slow, plodding walk, though they are able to trot in a stiff legged manner. In spite of their bulk, buffalo can run, when need be, at speeds of 40 mph.

COMMODITY
Just as early settlers hunted and used buffalo byproducts, so, too, do current Americans.

BUFFALO MEAT is in high demand worldwide, due to its nutrient rich properties. Faithful beef and chicken eaters are switching to the lower in fat and cholesterol buffalo meat.

BUFFALO MILK is made into cheese and butter and shipped around the world. Buffalo milk is also used to produce ghee, and shipped in high volume to Asia.

BUFFALO HIDE is used in the making of fine leathers in all areas of the world. Loved for its lightweight feel, buffalo leather is known for its weather resistant properties.

FUR from the buffalo is turned into wool and then knitted into winter garments and sold as lining.

TODAY
The American buffalo today exists in numbers greater than 350,000, and can be found throughout America. Many animals are privately owned, but public herds can still be found in many states, as well. There are more than 750 buffalo living in zoo facilities and more than 10, 000 living on US government protected, public land.