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The American bison, commonly called the buffalo,
is the largest mammal in North America.
You can tell they are mammals
because they are covered in fur, breathe air,
and they feed their babies milk.
Although not as tall as moose,
bison are both longer and heavier,
with males reaching lengths up to eleven and a half feet
or 3.5 meters
and weights of up to 1600 pounds
or 730 kilograms.
Bison are herbivores,
which means they eat plants.
They live on plains and prairies
because they mostly graze on grasses,
but they will also eat weeds and leafy plants,
and browse on shrubs and twigs.
To fuel their huge bodies,
bison need to forage for food for 9 to 11 hours every day.
Just like cows, bison are ruminants,
which means their stomachs have four compartments.
These special stomachs help them
to break down the grass and plants they eat.
They may look like cows grazing in a field,
but don’t let them fool you –
bison are wild animals,
powerful and dangerous.
Both male and female bison have short, curved horns,
large heads, and heavy shoulders.
They can swim rivers more than half a mile
or 1 kilometer wide,
run at speeds of up to 40 miles
or 64 kilometers per hour,
and jump 6 feet
or 1.8 meters up in the air.
In the spring and summer,
the bison come together and form large herds
with hundreds or even thousands of members.
It is in these herds that the baby bison,
known as calves, are born.
This little calf has just been born
and is wobbly on its legs,
but before long
it will be running along with the rest of the herd.
Newborn calves are a light reddish-tan color.
They will not turn the darker brown of their parents
for more than two months.
In the winter
bison break up into small groups of about 20 animals
because it is more difficult to find food in the snow.
Bison use their big heads and strong shoulders
to push snow out of the way
like a shovel to reach the grass below.
Their thick winter coats help them to survive freezing temperatures
that other animals cannot stand.
Bison once roamed North America in herds
numbering in the millions.
It’s estimated that there were about 60 million bison before the year 1800.
Just 100 years later, in the year 1900,
there were only 300 bison left.
As settlers moved west,
they hunted and killed millions of bison,
as many as they could shoot.
The settlers wanted to clear the huge herds off the plains
so that they would have room for farms and cattle.
Bison fur and leather could be sold for a lot of money,
and even their bones could be sold as fertilizer.
There was another reason to kill the bison, too:
the United States government wanted
Plains Indians living on the Great Plains to move to reservations
so there would be more room for the settlers.
The tribes that depended on bison to survive
would not be able to stay if the herds were gone.
Sadly, this plan worked.
By the year 1905,
worried that bison would go completely extinct,
conservationists including Theodore Roosevelt
founded the American Bison Society to protect
and preserve these huge animals.
Today, thanks to more than 100 years of conservation efforts,
American bison populations have increased
from 300 to more than 500,000 animals,
and it has been named the national mammal of the United States.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the American bison today.
Goodbye till next time!
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