US National MammalCelebrating National Bison Month

July 5, 2017

Every day in July is a great day to celebrate National Bison Month because:

The North American bison is now our National Mammal!

In May of 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act. With a rich history in conservation success and strong American culture ties, bison strongly emulate the spirit of the United States.

In the 17th century, bison were the most abundant mammal found across North America, estimated at 20 to 30 million. In the late 1800s, fewer than 1,100 were left due to habitat loss and unregulated shooting. This decline in the species’ population propelled government and other officials to take action. In 1905, pioneering conservationists, then-President Theodore Roosevelt and others launched the American Bison Society (ABS), a national campaign to create wild bison reserves. Through this program and by raising awareness about this vital animal, bison were able to rebound from the brink of near extinction.

Today, more than 500,000 bison can be found all across the US. There are two pure wild species of bison: wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) and plains bison (Bison bison bison). Around 30,000 of the total population consists of pure wild bison that roam free around the Midwest. Other types of bison are cross-breeds of the wood and plains bison.

Bison are the largest mammal in North America, but can still run pretty fast; up to 35 miles per hour to be exact! A bison’s life expectancy is between 12 and 20 years. They can weigh up to one ton, and are constantly munching on food. Bison are actually ruminants, just like cows, giraffes and bongo, which means they barely chew their food, swallow it, then regurgitate it hours later to chew on as “cud”. A bison’s diet usually consists of grasses, shrubs, and leaves, but the bison at the Zoo also get served herbivore grain, Timothy hay, and a variety of other browse that our horticulture department provides for them.

The Zoo has two female bison, Oakley and Lily, who have been residents since November 2, 2000. They are around 18 years old. Oakley, the bigger bison, has both of her horn sheaths. She typically is the dominant one of the pair. Lily is smaller than Oakley and is missing both of her horn sheaths. As the weather gets colder, the lovely ladies will grow a thicker coat of fur, which will shed in the spring time. There are street sweeper brushes that hang on their fence to help them shed during that time.

Oakley and Lily’s yard can be found in between the ZooFarm and the Bald Eagle enclosure. Be sure to stop by and pay tribute to the National Mammal this month, National Bison Month!

You can also meet Oakley and Lily up-close! Schedule a behind-the-scenes bison tour and learn all about our two bison personally from their Keeper!