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Oklahoma State Animal

American Buffalo, or Bison

State Symbol: Oklahoma State Animal: American Buffalo, or Bison

(Bison bison)

Adopted in 1972.

The American Buffalo, or Bison, (Bison bison,) is a massive animal that weighs from 800 to 2,000 pounds and stands nearly six feet high at the shoulder. A large head, high hump on the shoulders and dark brown shaggy hair characterize the buffalo. Buffalo once roamed the American prairie by the tens of millions and provided a way of life for the plains Indians. But European settlers hunted buffalo to the brink of extinction - it's estimated that between 300 - 500 animals remained when the federal government passed stricter game laws in 1889.

The bison was adopted as Oklahoma's state animal in 1972. Bison had been reintroduced to Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in 1907. Rocky Mountain elk were introduced from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1911 to replace the extinct eastern elk which once grazed alongside bison on the Great Plains.

Did you know that: The bison has been proclaimed the official state animal or mammal in each of the following states

State Symbol: Bison

Kansas   |   Oklahoma   |   Wyoming

Oklahoma State Animal: American Buffalo, or Bison

State Symbol: Oklahoma State Animal: American Buffalo, or Bison

Bison are part of the family Bovidae, to which cattle and goats belong. They are not in the same family that Asian and African buffalo are. However, because they resembled these old world animals, the early explorers called them by that name. Although it is a misnomer, the name buffalo is still used interchangeably with bison. One of the physical differences between the old world buffalo and the American bison is the large shoulder hump of the bison. This hump, along with a broad, massive head, short, thick neck and small hindquarters give the animal its rugged appearance.

Characteristics of the American Buffalo, or Bison

The body of the bison is huge, ranging in length from 3.6 m to 3.8 m in males to 2.13 m to 3.18 m in females. They are also tall animals, with the height at the shoulder ranging from 1.67 m to 1.86 m for males and 1.52 m to 1.57 m in females. Two distinctive features of the bisons are the shoulder hump and their huge head. The color of the bison is brown, varying slightly from the front and back of the animal. The hair is longer in the front than in the rear of the bison. The distinction between hair length is more noticeable in males than females. The horns of the bison are black, and they curve upward and inward, ending in a sharp tip. The legs of the bison are short but firm. The hooves are black and are circular in shape (Meagher, 1986).

Food Habits

Bison are year round grazers. They feed primarly on grasses, but when food is scarce, they will eat vegetation such as sagebrush. On the average, bison ingest 1.6% of their body mass per day of dry vegetation. Bison require water every day as well (Meagher, 1986).


State Symbol: Oklahoma State Animal: American Buffalo, or Bison

Females are sexually mature in two to three years and males reach maturity around age three. Bulls, however, do not breed until six years of age. The breeding season begins in late June and lasts through September. Gestation is around 285 days, so the calving season is from mid-April through May. Any out of season births occur in the late summer. Bison are born in an isolated location that has a lot of cover. Mothers protect the young from danger; males do not participate in this activity. One calf is born per season; the weight ranges from 15 kg to 25 kg. Male calves are born a little more frequently than females. The young calves are red in color. They begin turning brown in two and a half months and are entirely brown in four months. Calves are nursed for seven to eight months and are fully weaned by the end of the first year. Females are seasonally polyestrous with a cycle of approximately three weeks. Estrus may last anywhere from 9 to 28 hours (Meagher, 1986).


Bison are gregarious animals and are arranged in groups according to sex, age, season, and habitat. Cow groups are composed of females, males under three years of age, and a few older males. More males enter these groups as the rut approaches. Males live either individually or in groups that may be as large as 30 head. Dominance between the bulls is linear. Bulls that have a higher rank in the society breed more often than those of a lower rank. Cows also live in a linear dominance hierarchy, which is established early in life. Grazing takes place during several periods each day and is conducted in loose groups. When bison travel, they form a line. The traveling pattern of bison is determined by the terrain and habitat condition. An adult cow supplies the leadership. Bison are good swimmers as well as runners, capable of reaching speeds of 62 km/hr.

The olfactory sense of bison is excellent and is essential in detecting danger. Bison can hear very well as well. Bison are able to distinguish large objects from a distance of 1 km and moving objects 2 km away. Bison can communicate vocally through grunts and snorts.

Copulation is initiated by the bull and is quick. During the rut, bulls fight among themselves. The amount of wallowing and tree horning also increases during the rut (Meagher, 1986).


Originally, bison were found primarily in and at the fringes of open prairie (Bart, 1957). Now, however, because of their limited numbers, bison are found in many fewer habitats and their movements are very controlled. Within the national parks bison are found at all elevations (Meagher, 1986).

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 101

The American Buffalo, or Bison, was adopted by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 101 on March 29, 1972.



WHEREAS, the American Buffalo or Bison is widely and well known as the North American mammal of great stature and great strength which the early explorers of our continent found in abundance on our Great Plains; and

WHEREAS, the American buffalo or Bison has come to be a symbol both of the courage and perseverance that were necessary to "tame the West" and of man's responsibility to protect and preserve his natural environment; and

WHEREAS, the magnificent animal was native to both the grasslands and woodlands of what is now Oklahoma and was significant in the cultures and ceremonies of many of the Indian tribes who lived in Oklahoma and have passed along their heritage to modern day Oklahomans; and

WHEREAS, the American Buffalo or Bison now is preserved and protected in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and in other public and private areas of the State where continuing efforts are done to develop the husbandry of this greatest of the native grazing bovines.


SECTION 1. The American Buffalo or Bison is hereby designated and adopted as the State Animal of the State of Oklahoma.

SECTION 2. Copies of this Resolution shall be distributed to the historical societies, museums and public and school libraries of the State of Oklahoma.

Adopted by the Senate the 16th day of March, 1972.

Adopted by the House of Representatives the 29th day of March, 1972.

Oklahoma Law

The Oklahoma State Legislature named the bison Oklahoma's official state animal by concurrent resolution and it is, therefore, not listed in the Oklahoma Statutes.

Taxonomic Hierarchy: American buffalo.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Superorder: Ungulata
    Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
    Genus: Bison
Species: B. bison - (Linnaeus, 1758)
    Subspecies: B. b. athabascae
    Subspecies: B. b. bison
Synonyms: Bos americanus; Bos bison; Bison americanus; Bison bison montanae

State Mammals
State Mammals & Animals
Mammals are vertebrates (backboned animals) that feed their young on mother's milk.
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