Bison vs. Buffalo

What's the Difference?

Bison and buffalo are often used interchangeably to refer to the same animal, but there are some differences between the two. Bison are native to North America, while buffalo are found in Africa and Asia. In terms of physical appearance, bison have a larger hump and a more robust build compared to buffalo. Bison also have a shaggy, dark brown coat, while buffalo have a lighter coat with a distinct beard and longer horns. Additionally, bison are known for their agility and ability to jump, while buffalo are known for their endurance and ability to travel long distances. Despite these differences, both bison and buffalo are majestic creatures that hold cultural and ecological significance in their respective regions.


Photo by Bryce olsen on Unsplash
Scientific NameBison bisonBubalus bubalis
HornsBoth males and females have hornsBoth males and females have horns
Native toNorth AmericaAfrica and Asia
Conservation StatusNear ThreatenedLeast Concern
Primary DietGrassGrass
Distinctive FeaturesHump on the shouldersLarge, curved horns
Photo by ZACHARY PEARSON on Unsplash

Further Detail


Bison and buffalo are two majestic creatures that have captured the imagination of people around the world. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are several key differences between these animals. In this article, we will explore the attributes of bison and buffalo, shedding light on their physical characteristics, habitats, behavior, and conservation status.

Physical Characteristics

Both bison and buffalo belong to the Bovidae family, but they are distinct species. The American bison, also known as the American buffalo, is scientifically named Bison bison, while the water buffalo, found in Asia and Africa, belongs to the genus Bubalus. In terms of size, bison are generally larger than buffalo. Adult male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg) and stand around 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall at the shoulder, while male buffalo typically weigh around 1,500 pounds (700 kg) and reach a height of 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters). Additionally, bison have a hump on their shoulders, which buffalo lack.


Bison and buffalo have different habitat preferences. Bison are native to North America and are well-adapted to the grasslands and prairies of the region. They once roamed across vast areas of the continent, from Canada to Mexico. Today, they can be found in protected areas such as national parks and reserves. On the other hand, buffalo are found in various parts of Asia and Africa. They are often associated with wetlands, swamps, and rivers, as they require access to water for bathing and cooling off.


When it comes to behavior, bison and buffalo exhibit some differences. Bison are known for their herding behavior, forming large groups called herds. These herds can consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, with a dominant male leading the group. Bison are also known for their impressive speed and agility, capable of running up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h). Buffalo, on the other hand, tend to form smaller herds and are less social than bison. They are often found in smaller family groups, consisting of a dominant male, several females, and their offspring.

Conservation Status

Both bison and buffalo have faced significant threats to their populations over the years. The American bison, once numbering in the millions, was nearly driven to extinction due to overhunting and habitat loss. However, conservation efforts have helped to increase their numbers, and they are now classified as a species of "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On the other hand, several subspecies of buffalo, such as the African buffalo, are listed as "Least Concern," while others, like the wild water buffalo, are considered "Endangered" or "Critically Endangered." These designations highlight the need for continued conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures.


In conclusion, while bison and buffalo share some similarities as members of the Bovidae family, they also have distinct attributes that set them apart. Bison are larger, have a hump on their shoulders, and are native to North America, while buffalo are found in Asia and Africa and are associated with wetland habitats. Bison exhibit herding behavior and are known for their speed, while buffalo form smaller family groups. Both species have faced challenges in terms of conservation, but efforts are being made to protect and preserve their populations. By understanding and appreciating the unique attributes of bison and buffalo, we can contribute to their conservation and ensure their survival for future generations.

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