Differences between Buffaloes, Water Buffaloes and Bison

Differences between Buffaloes, Water Buffaloes and Bison

If you thought a buffalo and a bison are the same, blame it on the early American settlers, who called the bison “bufello” and caused the misnomer to remain for the American variety as "buffalo". This has led to confusion, and many diccionaries actually accept "buffalo" as a name for the American bison.

In fact, buffaloes do not roam the American West. Buffalos are only found in Africa and Asia: Water buffaloes are indigenous to South Asia, while the Cape buffalo is native to Africa - although there is an exception, the Italian Mediterranean buffalo.On the other hand, bison are found in North America and Europe.

Another source of confusion is that buffalos and bison both belong to the Bovidae family. This includes more than 100 mammal species, all of them ungulates, that is, cloven-hoofed. Other species of bovids include gazelles, cattle, sheep, goats and antelopes.

Between the buffalo and the bison, commonly mistaken for each other, there are a host of differences. Stay with us at AnimalWised and learn the differences between buffaloes, water buffaloes and bison.

Physical appearance: More than meets the eye

Unlike buffaloes, the American bison (Bison bison) and the European bison (Bison bonasus) sport a massive head and a large shoulder hump, which gives them a burly appearance. Bison also have a hairy fur coat on their body which thickens in winters to offer protection in harsh environments. Moreover, they have a beard. Buffaloes, on the other hand, do not have thick fur, and they do not have a beard neither.

In general, bison are bigger than buffaloes. An American bison is about 1.85 m (6 ft) tall at the shoulder, and an European bison is about 1.95 m (6 ft 4 in), although it is a bit lighter. The Cape buffalo is about 1.70 m (5 ft 6 in), while the water buffalo is smaller, at 1.35 m (4 ft 5 in). Besides being bigger, bison are also heavier (1400 kg to a buffalo's maximum 1200 kg) and faster.

The African Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) moves across the Savannah and grasslands of southern and eastern Africa and has a bone shield or "boss" on its head where the two big horns are fused. In the case of males, the horns are even more noticeable. The Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a marsh mucking animal which has a massive set of crescent-shaped horns that grow outward and backward. Buffaloes' horns are much longer and sharper than bison's.

In the picture you can see an American bison.

Temperament: Buffaloes react, bison attack

A bison's mentality is associated with its rugged structure, and it can unleash aggression when cornered. However, they are currently kept in herds and farmed. The African Cape buffalo can also be very aggressive, as it is considered one of the Big Five game animals of Africa.

Asian water buffaloes, on the other hand, are domesticated on account of their peaceful nature. Water buffaloes can therefore be tamed while African buffaloes and bison are more likely to roam in the wild on account of the differences in their temperament.

In the picture you can see an Asian water buffalo.

Habitat: The wild bison versus the homely water buffalo

Water buffaloes are domesticated or raised for meat and milk. Most water buffaloes live in a sheltered and domestic environment and survive well in mild temperatures; they are native to South Asia, especially India, where they live in farms, rivers and swamps. They have also been introduced to Italy and Australia.

However, there is also a wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee). It mostly lives in northeastern India, and it is an endangered species. Here you can learn more about the habitat of the wild water buffalo and why is the wild water buffalo endangered.

African buffaloes, on the other hand, graze freely in the swamps and grasslands across sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the savannas of Central Africa. They have never been domesticated.

Similarly, American bison run wild; they are rugged animals built to survive in extreme conditions. They live in open grasslands and scrublands like prairies and plains. They live in central and western North America up to Alaska, although their habitat has been much reduced and they are a near threatened species. They are one of the native animals of Utah.

The European bison, on the other hand, is a vulnerable species. It became extinct in the wild, but it has slowly been re-introduced. It lives in the lowlands of northeastern Europe, in forests.

In the picture you can see an American bison herd.

Lifespan and Diet

American bison live in rugged, wild conditions and don't last beyond their teens in the wild, while those that live in farms can live up to 25 years. The lifespan of European bison is similar, although they can live slightly longer in captivity. Domesticated water buffaloes have a lifespan of easily over 3 decades.

Buffalos and bison have a similar diet in that they thrive on grass and are herbivorous, with an appetite for over a gallon of water each day. American bison migrate to graze. European bison are more likely to supplement their diet with shoots and hay. Asian water buffaloes make the most of their habitat and also consume edible aquatic plants and reeds.

In the picture you can see an African buffalo.

Utility: The value of buffaloes versus bison

Water buffaloes, except for one or two subspecies, are domesticated, while bison are not. Buffalo milk and meat is used in Asia and Africa for eating, and they are work animals as well.

Bison, on the other hand, cannot be tamed and thus it's more unusual to find their products. However, nowadays they are raised for meat and also for leather.

In the picture you can see an European bison.

Human interaction

Bison have a history that is associated with danger and destruction because they roam wild and are fierce in temperament. Native Americans in North America hunted the bison prior to the arrival of the Europeans. By the 19th century, bisons were hunted to the brink of extinction in the United States and therefore cultivated to preserve their numbers.

Water buffaloes have been domestic animals for over 5,000 years. A major source of milk and dairy products such as clarified butter, they also power farms in South Asia. Buffalo meat is common in some parts of the world too.

In the picture you can see an Asian water buffalo.

Cultural value and importance

The bison is an epitome of the Wild West. Representing the vast plains and the need for conserving natural resources, bison have been reared in farms for preservation, and they are the national mammal of the United States.

The water buffalo is one of the sacred animals in Hinduism in India, where is it not eaten. In other parts of South Asia, racing and fighting buffaloes are a custom.

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