Bison Vs. Buffalo

Bison and buffalo, although closely related, do have a number of differences. To call the bison a buffalo would be a mistake, as a buffalo is a different type of animal. This article compares the two to find out their similarities and differences.
AnimalSake Staff
Although the bison and buffalo are related, there are a number of distinct differences between them. They do belong to the same family, but you could call them cousins. There are two types of Bison, the American Bison and the European bison or Caucasian Wisent. There are also two types of buffaloes, the African or Cape buffalo and the Asian or Water buffalo. Let us pit bison vs. buffalo and see in what respects they are similar and what makes each of them unique.
The main similarities between the bison and the buffalo are that they are closely-related according to the system of taxonomic classification of the animal kingdom.
  • They belong to the same Family - Bovidae, Kingdom - Animalia, Phylum - Chordata, Class - Mammalia, and Order - Artiodactyla.
  • They are both herbivorous animals and their main diet consists of grass.
  • Both of them live in the wild, although the Asian water buffalo has been domesticated.
  • Another unfortunate similarity is that they are all killed for their meat and sometimes for sport. This has decimated their populations in the wild, with humans still being their biggest predators.
  • Both of these animals are huge, four-footed mammals.
Points of Difference Bison Buffalo
Genus Bison are classified under the genus bison. Buffaloes are classified under the genus Bubalus (Asian water buffalo) and syncarus (African cape buffalo).
Hump The bison have a distinct hump on their backs. This back hump is absent in buffaloes.
Fur Bison have thick fur mainly because they are found in colder regions. Buffaloes are found in warmer climates and thus have light or no fur at all.
Beard Bison have a thick 'beard' on their neck and facial areas. Buffaloes have no such 'beard' on their necks or faces.
Lifespan Bison have a shorter life span as compared to buffaloes. They live for 13-19 years. Buffaloes are known to live up to 25-30 years in case of the water buffalo (which may be due to it being domesticated) and 15-25 years in case of the cape or African buffalo.
Horns Horns of the bison are small and sharp. Horns of buffaloes can be long but not sharp, as in the case of the Asian buffalo (longest horns), or of medium length with a head plate as in the case of the African buffalo.
Habitat The bison is found mostly in wild rugged regions. The Asian buffalo, which are domesticated do not live in the wild. The African buffalo though, is also found in the wild and cannot be domesticated.
Reasons for Hunting The bison are primarily hunted for their hides and meat. The Asian buffalo is domesticated and is used to obtain milk, hide, and meat. The African buffalo was once hunted for sport, but is now used for meat as well.
Distribution The American bison is mostly found in the grassland biomes of North and South America, and the European bison in the countries of central and northern Europe. The African buffalo is found in sub-Saharan Africa. The Asian buffalo is found in Asia, Europe, America, Australia, and the Mediterranean.
Population Figures Bison population ranges from 250,000 to 300,000. The Asian buffalo population is very large, up to 250 million, because of their economic value to humans. The African buffalo population is about 900,000.
Bison and buffaloes are two fascinating creatures, and their importance cannot be denied. Though they have been constantly hunted and killed for sport and meat, their economic and ecological value is now being understood. Conservation efforts are being made to preserve these magnificent animals. Bison are also an important part of American history and culture, and a popular symbol in American civilization.