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In going to Yellowstone I hoped to get a few nice images of Bison. They are iconic animals and any trip, in my opinion, to this vast nature preserve would be incomplete without a few Bison images. I was concerned before heading there that we’d not see any of these animals.
I need not have been concerned. In Yellowstone Bison are the most visible of the large land mammals. They seem to be everywhere — in open fields, alongside the roads, and not infrequently, in the middle of the roads. There are about 3500 Bison residing in the park, which doesn’t sound like much given the park’s vast size. But, these animals like grasslands and the grasslands in Yellowstone are located in river valleys. Go to any river valley in the park and you’ll certainly see Bison.
We saw them in family groups, in herds of up to about 100 animals, and as isolated individuals.
In this first image a family of Bison graze next to a small watering hole in the Hayden Valley.
Bison are social animals and there is a definite social structure within the herds. Big bulls — weighing up to a ton — associate with their favorite cows. They keep any potential rivals at a distance. The bulls show genuine affection for their preferred mates, nuzzling them, constantly grazing alongside them, and bellowing loudly at any potential interloper. A bull Bison’s bellow, by the way, is an astonishingly loud bass roar.
Young bulls, like the one depicted here, are tolerated so long as they don’t attempt to poach cows from the dominant bulls.
These animals are truly massive. One cannot imagine how big they are — much, much bigger than a domestic cow. A bull bison at 2000 pounds weighs about twice as much as a horse. It stands about five feet high at the shoulder and its huge head is dominated by a pair of long and very sharp horns.
Bison are related to domestic cattle and at times they appear to be almost cow-like, placidly grazing without regard to the throngs of humans standing yards away or to automobile traffic on the highway. Every year in Yellowstone people fall into the trap of believing that the park’s Bison are “tame,” and that can be a fatal error. A Bison is a wild animal and will react violently if it feels threatened or it is annoyed. One of these animals can kill a human with a flick of its head. Each year in Yellowstone there are a few serious injuries or fatalities from human-Bison interactions and Bison are responsible for far more serious injuries and fatalities than bears. There are signs all over the place warning people to stay away from the Bison and yet, I saw tourists standing as close as six feet from these animals. The closeups in this blog are courtesy of my camera’s long telephoto lens.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting. The first image shot at ISO 160, f8 @ 1/160. The second image shot at ISO 800, f8 @ 1/250. The third and fourth images shot at ISO 400, f7.1 @ 1/400.