The first confusion between buffalo and bison began centuries ago when early settlers in the western United States referred to the American bison roaming the plains as buffalo. They may have chosen the term buffalo as an homage to the French word for beef, or possibly because the hides from bison were familiar to the buff coats worn by men in the military at the time. Hundreds of years later, buffalo is still commonly referred to as bison. While these two animals may appear to be the same species at first glance, they are not. Here are some key differences between the two:
1. Physical Appearance.
From a distance, it’s easy to distinguish between a bison and a buffalo because their body shapes are so different. Male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, while female bison can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. They have a distinctive shaggy mane around their neck and shoulders and a large hump of muscle and fat on their back that allows them to use their heads as powerful snowplows in the winter, swinging their heads from side to side to push aside masses of snow. Their horns are short and thick and they have short tails with a dark brown or black complexion.
The African Cape Buffalo, on the other hand, is generally smaller than bison, with males weighing up to 1,500 pounds and females weighing up to 1,100 pounds. They have a shorter mane and lack hump. They also have wide horns that can grow up to a meter across and are shaped like a handlebar mustache, starting at a thick, helmet-like base and curling down, then back up.
2. Natural Habitat.
In terms of habitat, Bison are native to North America and can be found in river valleys, prairies, and plains throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They are more tolerant to cold climates than buffalo and can be found in colder climates like Alaska and Canada. They have also been introduced successfully in Europe and New Zealand.
Cape buffalo on the other hand are native to Africa, primarily inhabiting the savannas and grasslands of East and Southern Africa. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, including semi-arid bush land and montane grasslands to coastal savannas and lowland rainforests as long as they are close to a water source.
Both the Cape buffalo and the bison are herbivorous, with a diet mostly consisting of grasses and other vegetation. However, there can be significant regional differences in what plants they eat. Bison are generalist feeders, which means that they will eat a variety of plant species depending on what is available. In the wild, bison primarily feed on grasses, but they will also eat other plants such as shrubs, bark, and berries.
Cape buffalo on the other hand typically feed on grasses and they have a special adaptation that allows them to eat tough, fibrous grasses that other herbivores cannot digest. The two animals also differ in terms of how much food they consume; bison tend to eat less than buffalo but require more food per pound of body weight.
4. Behavioral Traits.
In terms of behavior, Buffalo can live in herds of a few hundred but have been known to congregate in thousands in the Serengeti during the rainy season. Congregating in large herds is one of their many anti-predator adaptations. Large herds decrease the possibility of any individual being singled out by lions. The females and their offspring make up the bulk of the herd. Males may spend much of their time in bachelor groups. They are also considered one of the Big Five game animals, known for their fierce and unpredictable nature. They will often charge at hunters even when mortally wounded.
Bison, on the other hand, live in smaller groups and often wander alone. They tend to be less migratory, though some may travel seasonally between pastures. They are not considered as dangerous as Cape buffalo, since they have a more docile behavior.
In conclusion, while the Cape buffalo and the bison may look similar, they are distinct animals that have evolved to adapt to different environments and have different behaviors. The cape buffalo is found in a wide range of habitats throughout Africa, whereas the Bison is primarily found in the Great Plains region of North America. They have different characteristics, like colors, locations, and hunting behaviors. Both animals play an important role in their respective ecosystems and are a part of the natural heritage of their respective continents.
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