Badlands National Park – American Bison Part 1

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It was super-rewarding that we were able to take the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road off of the Badlands NP scenic loop.  That is where the park states the best wildlife sightings could be found, including the American bison.  You could stop anywhere along this road; in fact, several times we had to stop to allow wildlife to cross the road in front of our car!

In prehistoric times, it is estimated 60-70 million bison roamed North America.  By the early 1800s, there were roughly 30 million.  Horrifying, by the late 1800s, the European settlers hunted them almost to extinction to fewer than 1,000 bison. 

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American Bison

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Badlands National Park played an important role in the recovery program of the bison.  In the 1960s, 50 bison were introduced to Badlands National Park; in the 1980s, 20 more were added. Today, there are about 1,200 bison freely roaming the plains within the Park.

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American Bison heading to a herd

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Bison are the largest mammal in North America.  Males (called bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds at 6 feet tall, females (called cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds at 4-5 feet tall.

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American Bison (male and female)

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American Bison close-up (male and female)

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They are not only big, but bison are also fast; they can run up to 35 mph (56 kmh). 

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“Running Wild, Running Free”

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Bison primarily eat grasses, weeds and leafy plants, typically foraging for 9-11 hours a day. Their average lifespan is 10-20 years.  These photos show bison shedding their winter fur.

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American Bison

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As bison wander through the grasslands feeding, they stir up insects.  Several bird species will follow the bison, eating the exposed insects.  Some may even land on a bison to look for insects there too. 

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“Hitching a Ride”

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“The Gang’s All Here”
(bison, birds, prairie dog)

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The history of bison and Native Americans are intertwined.  Bison have been integral to tribal culture, providing them with food, clothing, fuel, tools, shelter and spiritual value.  

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American bison grazing a prairie dog town

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The American bison was named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016.

Although many people interchange the two species, the American bison is not a buffalo; and they are not closely related.  Old World “true” buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia.  Bison are found in North America and Europe.

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American bison walking amongst prairie dog home entrances

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American bison close-up

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Advice from a Bison:

Stand your ground.
Have a tough hide.
Roam wild and free.
Have a strong spirit.
Let the chips fall where they may!

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More to come on….Badlands NP, American Bison Part 2….

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