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​No Bull: The Bison of Yellowstone (in Photos)

Once, there were only 25 bison left inside Yellowstone National Park. Today, there are thousands of bison on park grounds. Tourists flock to Yellowstone in summer and fall to witness herds of bison foraging for grasses and rolling in the dirt. Group adventures like Scenic Safaris’ Yellowstone Lower Loop Tour cross the territory of these majestic animals, making it likely that guests will come home with a photo or two of Yellowstone’s herds. If you’re interested in learning more about the bison of Yellowstone, here are a few facts to get you started.

Bison Basics

The largest land mammal in America, bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Typically speaking, males are bigger and heavier than females – up to twice the size! How do you tell them apart? Male bison (called “bulls”) have a triangular shaped head and a furrier beard than their female counterparts. They also have broader shoulders, whereas females (called “cows”) have broader hips. Bison are often confused with buffalo because they look similar. While both mammals are in the same family,
●       The American Bison is native to North America and Europe, while buffalo hail from Africa and Asia.
●       North American Bison have shaggy beards.
●       Bison can live in cold places, while buffalo prefer warmth.

Bison on the Move

You might think that bison are slow because of their size and lumbering gait. Not so. Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour, solo or in a herd. They can also turn on a dime, an adaptation that makes it harder for predators to catch adult bison.

Bison in Winter

Like Yellowstone’s birds, the two main bison herds here will often migrate for the winter. However, that doesn’t mean your photos will be bison-free if you take a snowmobile or snow coach tour of Yellowstone in the snowy season. Bison herds still roam the park foraging for food sources, which can be scarce in winter.

Bison in the Field

If you’re worried a bison will come charging your way and eat you for dinner, rest easy. Like cattle, bison primarily eat wild grasses and low shrubbery. They’re relatively calm and docile animals, unless frightened. The Bison of Yellowstone are generally viewed in small family groups and will not approach humans under most circumstances. Tip: Tourists have occasionally had a run-in with Yellowstone’s bison, so it’s always safer to give these animals a wide berth and take photos from a distance.

Thinning the Herd

Hunting isn’t allowed on park grounds, which is why bison herds here have flourished. Some outside groups have campaigned for the right to hunt some of Yellowstone’s 5,500+ bison. They didn’t exactly get their wish, but in early 2017, an agreement was struck between the state of Montana, Yellowstone and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow the slaughter of more than 1,000 bison migrating from the park. The program is intended to slow the growth of the herd and avoid overpopulation that could harm Yellowstone’s ecosystem. 

The best way to see the bison of Yellowstone safely is with a group led by an experienced tour guide. Scenic Safaris offers half- and full-day tours of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas throughout every season. Call 888-734-8898 or book a tour online today.