Buffalo vs. Bison

Buffalo vs. Bison

Buffalo and bison are types of hoofed mammals that belong to the bovid family. They inhabit plains, rugged lands and wetlands, which provide plenty of food - grass. Both buffalo and bison have horns, large, stocky body and dark coat, but they differ in:

Geographic Distribution

Many people use words bison (which means "ox-like animal" in Greek) and buffalo interchangeably to describe massive, shaggy animal that lives in large herds that roam across the plains of North America. Scientifically speaking, bison is the only correct term. American bison originates from North America and it cannot be found anywhere else. Its relative, European bison, inhabits parts of Europe. Unlike bison, there are two species of buffalo: African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo, that are native to Africa and Asia.

Body Size and Horns

Bison and buffalo are roughly same in size. American bison can reach 700 to 2000 pounds, while buffalo can reach 2000 (cape buffalo) to 2640 (water buffalo) pounds of weight. American bison has massive head and muscular shoulders with large hump above them. It has small, but sharp horns located on the lateral sides of the head. Unlike bison, buffalo does not have hump on the back, but it has shield on top of the head and pair of large, crescent-shaped horns. Horns are especially large in water buffalo. They can reach the length of a fully grown animal (distance between the tips of the horns can be 6 feet).


Bison is covered with thick, shaggy coat and it has thick beard. Unlike bison, buffalo has, short, shiny hair and it lacks beard.


American bison cannot be domesticated. Cape buffalo is well-known for its bad temper and inability to live close to people. Unlike cape buffalo, water buffalo can be easily tamed and used as a source of milk, for transportation and plowing.

Conservation Status

American bison was brought to the brink of extinction during the 19th century due to uncontrolled hunting because of its meat and hide. Thanks to huge conservation efforts, wild population of American bison managed to recover. All American bison that can be seen in North America today are descendants of a group of less than 1000 animals from the New York zoo and Yellowstone. Water buffalo is classified as endangered due to intense hunting, habitat loss, diseases and interbreeding with domestic buffaloes (less than 4000 animals are left in the wild). Unlike them, cape buffaloes are numerous in the wild.

Life Span

American bison can survive 13 to 21 years in the wild. Buffaloes have slightly longer life span. They can survive 15 - 25 (cape buffalo) to 25 - 30 years (water buffalo) in the wild.

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