American bison (American buffalo)

   When the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés came to the New World more than 400 years ago, he found in the zoo of the Aztec king a big animal which he thought very strange. One of his men wrote that this animal looked as if it were made up of parts of several different animals. It had a bunch of hair on its back like a camel, its neck was covered with hair like a lion, and its head was armed like a bull's. It had, besides, crooked shoulders, a lar ge tail, and hoofs. It was fierce and strong. Cortés called the animal a Mexican bull. It was an American bison.
   Many people call American bison buf­faloes, but bison are not true buffaloes. True buffaloes are cousins of the domestic ox and are found only in Asia and Africa. They do not have the big arched shoulders and shaggy hair of the bison.
   Less than a hundred years ago there were enormous herds of wild bison on the Great Plains of America. In all the herds together there were millions of animals. The first white settlers to cross the plains were in danger of being killed by stampedes of these big animals.
   But as the West was settled. the bison were killed by the thousands. Many were killed for meat and for their hides. Others were killed just for the fun of hunting. The last great bison hunt was in 1883. Then a thousand animals were killed.
   When the American government realized that all the bison would soon be gone, it set aside some places where the dwindling herds could live in safety. Now there are more than 20,000 bison in herds on these reservations. There are bison in many zoos, too.

American bison