Bison are primarily prehistoric creatures. They have not been bred and manipulated to meet industry or customer demands. Instead, they have been left to live as wild a life as elk or deer, moose or caribou. Not even nature has changed the design since we only have two varieties alive in the world today, the European Bison and the American Bison.
When the land masses were connected, bison freely moved between the Asian and North American continents numbering in the millions of animals. Before the age of the modern guns, herds in the five and sometimes six digit size, were commonplace on the plains of USA and Canada (before they were nations). They ranged from just below the Arctic Circle to present-day Mexico. Today, they live on public lands and as part of private herds.
While they have never been truly domesticated, they have been managed. Separated from the commercial cattle herds for health reasons, some ranchers today raise them to market for the niche meat industry. People who want to witness these massive animals must visit zoological gardens or nature preserves because of their scarcity. But specifically because they have not been commercialized to the same degree as American meat cattle varieties, (and since they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century) they have become rare.
To me, it is tragic that an animal that so symbolized America and the American West that it once graced the U.S nickel, would today be relegated to history and lore. I find these animals to be both brilliant and beautiful. Not brilliant in the sense that they are smart or clever, but that they survive the harshest climates and continue to survive as a species for thousands of years.
As exciting as seeing roadside wildlife, spotting a herd of bison always compels me to stop and draw in the wonderment of our past pioneer spirit of freedom and tenacity, as embodied in the American Bison. I’m glad they’re mostly still living a free life. To think that such an animal should be owned is almost a criminal thought. The American Bison is truly an awesome spectacle!