Are Buffalo and Bison The Same?

Are Buffalo and Bison The Same

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It is only natural for people to confuse Buffalo and Bison as both animals have a similar appearance. That’s why most American people are seen asking whether the black, giant scary-looking beast is buffalo or bison.

This whole bison vs buffalo debate has gotten so complicated that many people commonly refer to bison as buffalo.

Both animals have many key things in common, however, it is not that difficult to tell them apart. learn Bull vs. Buffalo

Are Buffalo and Bison the same? It is time to learn whether buffalo and bison are two names for one animal or they are different species.

Are Buffalo and Bison the Same?

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they are different animals belonging to the same family. Buffalo and Bison are related and belong to the Bovidae family.

These large, horned, black, ox-like animals are two distinct animals separated by oceans. Contrary to the iconic song of the American West “Home on the Range”, the home where the buffalo roam is not very likely the American range.

The North American people usually refer to Bison as Buffalo. Focusing on the three H’s; home, hump, and horns, it is not that difficult to distinguish between these two animals.

The name of Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and bison (Bison bison) gets so intermixed that people confuse them as one animal.

Bison are mostly called ‘Buffalo’ in North America, even though most likely Buffalos have never roamed the region.

Why The Misnomer?

This Misnomer can be blamed on European settlers of America’s Great Plains. These settlers arrived in the American West from the Atlantic and upon seeing the vast herds of large, hoofed bison, they called them buffalos.

Well, they had a good reason for it because of bison’s superficial similarities with the African Buffalo.

Despite their similarities, these are not just a single species but two distinct animals divided by multiple differences.

Despite being a misnomer, Bison is still commonly referred to as Buffalo that adds more to the confusion.


Buffalos are medium-sized, less furry, and hump-less. Their meat is not generally consumed and is mostly raised for their prized milk. They are divided into two categories; Water Buffalo and Cape Buffalo.

Water Buffalo or otherwise called domesticated Asian Buffalo is found in Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe. Whereas, Cape Buffalo or Syncerus caffer is a resident of the grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa.

These animals were domesticated thousands of years ago to be used for their milk, leather, or as work animals. Some of the Buffalo species are also found in West Africa and along the plains of southern and eastern Africa.


For what most people consider “American Buffalo” is correctly called Bison. American Bison and European Bison are the two types of Bison. This distinct species is easily recognizable by its huge size, large heads, prominent hump, and short horns.

Once roamed North America in large herds, it is now recognized as the National Mammal of the United States.

The natural habitat of this animal extends to the United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico.

Unlike buffalos, it is raised for meat and considered a great alternative to beef. The meat is tender, lean, rich in protein, and lower in cholesterol.

How to Differentiate Between Bison and Buffalo?

Both Bison and Buffalo can be differentiated by different characteristics and factors. It is easy to tell them apart when you know the differences between the two.


  • Location: Being indigenous to Asia and Africa, Buffalos are primarily farmed in these regions and now in some other parts of the world as well. Bison are native to North and South America, however, they are also found in some parts of Europe.
  • Habitat: Domesticated buffalos are raised in a very lazy and tame habitat. This species is adapted to living in mild temperatures. Bison is accustomed to living in extreme weather conditions from summer heat to winter cold. Their natural habitat includes grasslands and open savannas of North America.
  • Hump: The next telltale sign is the hump, buffalos lack hump. Bison do have a hump at the shoulder that allows their head to function as a plow to sweep away snow in winter. People riding buffalo and bison are not allowed.
  • Horns: Water Buffalo have wide horns reaching up to six feet growing sideways out of their heads before curving up. African Buffalo also have massive horns covering the top of their head. Buffalo horns have very pronounced arcs. Bison have short but sharper horns. These shorter horns curve out of their heads, just a couple of inches above their eyes.
  • Size: Buffalo are medium-framed animals weighing between 1,300 to 2,000 lbs. Bison are considerably heavier and larger weighing between 2,200 to 2,500 lbs.
  • Species: African Buffalo and Water Buffalo are the main species of Buffalos. The two main Bison species include American Bison in North America and European Bison in Europe.
  • Fur: Buffalos carry thin, sparse, invisible fur all year round. They are also beardless. Bison have shaggy, thick fur to protect them from the winter cold. They shed their winter coats in the summer. Bison support thick beards.
  • Body Shape: Buffalo has fairly straight backs, proportional heads, and no hump. Bison have bulkier up front with huge heads, large shoulders, and sloppy back, downward from shoulder to rump. Buffalo is raised for milk and bison for breeding.

Confused settlers used the term buffalo to describe bison owing to the striking resemblance. These two animals may look similar to the untrained eye, however, if only one knows where to look.

Bison are found in Europe and North America whereas Buffalos are available in Asia and Africa. To tell them apart, examine their general appearance, size, body shape, weight, horns, and fur.


Although these animals live thousands of miles away from each other, still, they are confused for being the same animal. Initially, Bison was mistakenly called buffalo by settlers, however, this mistake is still ingrained in the American culture. They belong to the Bovidae family of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals including cows and goats.

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