Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

Bison, or American Buffalo, which once roamed North America in vast numbers, can be seen along the open flat lands that stretch between Madison Junction and Old Faithful and in the northeastern and central parts of the park. These unmistakably large animals are characterized by a bulky body, large head and curved horns. Weighing up to 2,200 lbs, bison are often 5 to 6 feet in length, with long shaggy hair over their shoulders and legs that insulate them during harsh prairie winters.

Yellowstone's status as a wildlife preserve has helped increase the bison's numbers, which by the late 1800s had plummeted to dangerous lows. Less than 100 bison existed throughout North America by the end of the 19th century due largely to mass hunting and poaching. Efforts throughout the last century have made the bison one of nature's better success stories: Buffalo can be seen in many rural areas of the West, although Yellowstone has the only free-roaming herds of bison in the United States. Thanks to vigilant conservation efforts, there are now about 3-4,000 bison in Yellowstone.

Other natural threats however, continue to jeopardize the bison's existence. Bison are susceptible to brucellosis, a disease that is known to affect domesticated cattle. Yellowstone herds are prohibited from leaving the park and can be shot if they enter Montana rangelands. It is still unclear however, as to whether rangeland cattle can be infected from coming in contact with free-roaming bison.

Spring is a popular time to watch for bison, since they generally calf during April or May. The Madison, Firehole and Gibbon River areas are good locations for spotting bison. Hayden Valley near the Yellowstone River, Fishing Bridge, Fountain Flats, Mud Volcano and Lamar Valley are prime viewing areas as well.

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