Park Life Blog

Happy National Bison Day!


National Bison Day is just around the corner! In May 2016, the National Bison Legacy Act was signed, officially designating bison as the national mammal of the United States, and the first Saturday in November was declared “National Bison Day.”

Why is this a big deal? 
For centuries, the bison population numbered in the millions. Herds roamed freely, and the animals played a crucial part in the ecology, the economy and culture of the United States. As communities began to grow and move westward, bison were hunted for sport, and they were hunted to the brink of extinction.

With population numbers dwindling, conservancies formed across the country began working to protect the bison and to improve their habitats. Thanks to these efforts, bison are no longer considered endangered.

How did Shelby Farms Park wind up with a buffalo herd?
Buffalo have been at Shelby Farms Park since 1989. The Shelby County Superintendent for Shelby Farms Park - Tommy Hill - brought six buffalo and two longhorn steer to the Park from Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo, Tennessee. They quickly became popular Park inhabitants and have lived there ever since.

So, are they bison or buffalo?
The animals you see at Shelby Farms Park are American Bison (Bison bison), commonly known as buffalo. American buffalo are different from African and Asian buffalo. "Bison" is scientifically accurate, while "buffalo" recalls this animal's central role in American history. We like “buffalo” best.

Buffalo Facts:

  • In addition to grazing, the Shelby Farms Park herd consumes 50,000 pounds of hay and supplemental feed each year!
  • It takes $11,000 and more than 1,000 Ranger hours annually to keep the herd in tip top shape!
  • Males are called "bulls" and females are called "cows."
  • Males can weigh up to 2,000 lbs.
  • Males and female buffalo have short, curved horns, which they use in fighting to defend their status within the herd.
  • Buffalo typically mate in August and September and have a 9-9.5 month gestation period.
  • Calves can stand soon after they are born and can walk with the herd in just a few hours.
  • Calves are born with a rusty red coat which gets darker as they grow up.
  • Buffalo can run up to 30mph.
  • It’s not always easy to tell bulls from cows at a distance. Bulls have a wider face and thicker hair on their forehead, front legs and beard. Bulls also tend to have shoulders wider than their hips, while females tend to have hips wider than their shoulders.
  • The buffalo hump is made of strong muscles supported by very long vertebrae.
  • Buffalo wallow in dirt or mud, both to remove molting fur patches and to deter flies from biting. Bulls also wallow in mating season to display strength and vigor.

You can help support these awesome animals by making a contribution to our Feed the Herd program, which helps provide hay and supplemental feed for the Park’s iconic buffalo herd. Learn more and make your gift here.


Posted by Rebecca Dailey at 9:13 AM
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