The bison, or buffalo, once totaling around 30 million in number, were kings of the prairie. These magnificent animals can be up to six feet high at the shoulders and weigh a ton or more - so huge that early settlers thought it was the bison that had cleared the trees from the prairie. They roamed the range in herds of dozens to millions, never overgrazing, always moving, granting the land time to recover. Like fire, they were a mainstay within a delicately balanced ecosystem.
In the late 1800s the bison were almost entirely eliminated, with less than 1000 individuals left at the lowest point. Today their numbers have rebounded to about 350,000 - only about 1% of their original numbers, but enough so that the bison are no longer in danger of extinction. About 15,000 reside on public lands in the US, the rest are private herds, such as those maintained by The Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy has reintroduced bison at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve as a critical part of the restoration of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Visitors to the preserve can usually see one or more small herds of bison by driving the 10-mile bison loop, though bison are constantly on the move and may be hidden by the rolling prairie terrain.
More About Bison
A Historical Perspective
Great herds of bison once roamed North America between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains.
Origin of the Tallgrass Herd
The Tallgrass Prairie bison herd was started with 300 animals donated by the Ken-Ada Ranch.
Tallgrass Bison Herd Size
The original herd of 300 bison at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve has grown to the optimum over-wintered size of about 2,100, which is based on the available range.
Bison Vital Statistics
Bison can weigh as much as 2000 pounds, stand over six feet tall and live as long a 40 years.
Bison are grazers who prefer grasses to other prairie plants, such as wildflowers.
Bison are ordinarily mild-mannered, even dull, animals but can be aggressive.