Kansas State Mammal
American Buffalo (common name)
Bison bison (scientific name)
The American buffalo, North America’s largest land animal, became the official state animal of Kansas in 1955, the state mammal of Oklahoma in 1972, and the state mammal of Wyoming in 1985. Buffalo were once extremely common on prairie lands across the U.S. and were an integral part of Native American culture. With the arrival of European settlers they were hunted almost to extinction, partly for the meat and skins. Organized buffalo hunts were also planned because many Native Americans relied on buffalo, and settlers and the American government hoped to force native cooperation by removing this important resource. It’s possible that between 300 and 500 bison were left when federal game laws changed in 1889, some in Yellowstone Park and some in private herds.
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In winter, bison have a longish, uneven, deep brown coat. In summer they shed this coat, leaving them with a lighter colored, lightweight summer coat. The heads, shoulders, and thorax are oversized and solidly built, and the rear part of the body is much narrower, though this difference is more pronounced in males than in females. The front of the body is also usually a little darker. Both males and females have short, curved horns. Newborn bison are reddish-brown and have no hump or only a very slight hump. This develops as they mature.
Up to 40 years in captivity; average of 15 years in the wild.
Range: Today, most bison live in parks such as Yellowstone, Montana’s National Bison Range, Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Nebraska’s Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota’s Sullys Hill National Wildlife Refuge, and Iowa’s Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservation status: Near Threatened (NT). Historically, bison lived south of Canada’s Great Bear Lake all the way into Mexico and east to the Appalachian Mountains.
Bison generally graze in the mornings and evenings and rest during the heat of the day. They use their horns when fighting for their place within the herd and also for defense. Late summer, usually August to September, is mating season for bison. Bulls generally mate with more than one female and keep other bulls away by fighting them off as needed. Gestation lasts 285 days, after which one calf is born in spring. Calves nurse for a year, and are mature when they are three years old.
Bison roll in dust or mud in shallow depressions called buffalo wallows to aid shedding and rid themselves of biting insects. They live in groups divided by sex and age. Female groups include cows, males younger than three years, and a couple of older males. As mating season approaches, additional males join the group. At other times of the year, males may live alone or in groups of up to 30. Both males and females have a clear system of hierarchy, making some animals dominant over others. Bison can run quickly and steadily for relatively long periods.
Top land speed recorded: 35 mph (56 kph)
Prairie grasses and sedges
Breeding interval: Annual
Birthing period: April–May
Average litter size: 1 calf
Size at birth: 65 pounds
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|Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
Author: World Trade Press