The extinction of Buffalo in US territories

The American bison, most commonly known as Buffalo once had widespread habitat over the lands of North America. What had happened to these beautiful animals to bring them close to extinction and put them on the endangered species list?


The Buffalo habitat

In America’s pre-colonial time’s bison numbered nearly 60 million. Native American’s primal haul, bison used to occupy the territories from Canada to North Mexico to the sought and reached the Atlantic seaside to the east. Buffalo are large and dangerous mammals, they can weigh nearly a ton, and despite their massive weight are fast and can become aggressive, when close to danger.

For nearly 200 000 years American bison roamed over US grassland, inhabiting grass plains and prairies.

Two main species could have been seen before their massive extermination- plains bison and wood bison. Both of them hunted by the Native Americans, but never in significant scale to endanger their existence.


After the settlement

The white men came to the continent willing to conquer these wild lands as fast as possible. Europeans settled in the US territories trying to adjust both nature and native inhabitants to their laws. Their biggest advantage- the fire gun- won them supremacy. Bison hunting was highly desirable activity, as bison were wanted for their meat and skin. Buffalo meat is known to be very rich in proteins while having low cholesterols levels- of taste is close to beef.

sleeping bisons

The hunting

The 19th century begun with higher demand for Buffalo meat and skin, and since new hunting and more efficient methods were acquired, there was an excellent market for bison goods. It is the people who pushed bison to extinction, a process, which started around 1820. In the next decades, hundreds of animals were slaughtered for trade. Trains used to ship bison from to the other end of the country and outside of it- for export.

bison scalp

The Great Slaughter

The period between 1820 and 1880 is known as “The Great Slaughter.” By 1880 from 60 million buffalo in wild herds, less than 1000 were left.

You probably wonder, how people managed to do this? And why? Buffalo hunting was the livelihood of Native Americans. They gained meat, skins, created tools thanks to Buffalo hunts. Colonists wanted to force local inhabitants to meet their federal laws, to “civilize” them, and since Buffalo hunting was so important to them that it needed to be restricted.

And they managed to do that, by slaughtering almost every living animal.

buffalo population

Buffalo population 2003

Danger of extinction

Soon with the roll of the decade, the mass extinction of American bison revealed its real significance. American bison, a species only living in the territories of North America, is an important part of the ecosystem. Its extinction can affect the environmental balance- Buffalo eat different grasses helping for natural diversity and growth.


The first preserves for Buffalo appeared at the beginning of the 20th century- the Yellowstone National Park, Bronx Zoo, and the National Bison Range in Montana.

Still, Buffalo have never been officially recognized as endangered animals. In the more recent history efforts have been made to preserve bison habitat, but the lack of available grassland is a huge obstacle. Both private and public organizations struggle to protect and renew the population of American bison.

Today the only wild herd estimates around 4000 animals live in Yellowstone Park. This herd is the only one genetically linked to its predecessors. Thankfully, bison population has recovered to highest numbers, thanks to animal raising in preserves. In 2000, 360 000 buffalo live on the territory if North America and today the number is 500 000.

Ironically endangered species are safe from total extinction as a result of humans’ efforts the same people caused this ecological crisis.

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