What Is the History of the Buffalo?


Quick Answer

The American bison, often referred to by Americans as buffalo, migrated to North America about 200,000 years ago and still exists today as an endangered species. The water buffalo, native to Asia, and the Cape buffalo, native to Africa, have existed in their respective continents for hundreds of thousands of years as well.

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Full Answer

In the Native American era, the estimated American bison population in North America was approximately 60 million. In that time, the bison's range extended from Alaska and northern Canada down to northern Mexico. The population was particularly concentrated in the continent's plains region. However, as the United States of America began to extend its territory westward, white hunters increasingly looked to the bison as a source of nourishment and clothing. By 1890, conservationists estimated that the bison population had shrunk to approximately 1,000 specimens.

In the early 1900s, the United States and Canada began to establish national parks and bison reserves. The bison population is currently concentrated in protected areas across the western United States and Canada. The most notable herd is in Yellowstone National Park in the state of Wyoming. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the American bison as a near-threatened species, as of 2015.

The ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations domesticated the water buffalo approximately 4,000 years ago. By the Middle Ages, the water buffalo had reached southeast Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa. Farmers continue to use the water buffalo for its milk, meat, leather and pulling power. The Cape buffalo's range once extended across most of Africa south of the Sahara desert. However, a disease outbreak in the late 19th century limited its range to central and west Africa.

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