Bison vs. Buffalo


The animal that most Americans call a buffalo is actually a bison. Buffaloes are found in Africa and South Asia, while bison roam in North and South America. This comparison examines the differences between buffaloes and bison in terms of physical characteristics, habitats, lifespan, and temperament.

Comparison chart



Shape Four footed, huge structure, large hump. Four footed, huge frame, no hump.
Horns Sharp and small. Not sharp but long (Water buffalo); medium & sharp (Cape buffalo).
Fur Thick fur. Light fur.
Beard Thick beard. No beard.
Weight 700 to 2,200 lb. 1200 kg (2640 lb) for wild water buffalo; 850 kg (1870 lb) for domestic water buffalo; 909 kg (2000 lb) for Cape buffalo.
Lifespan 13-21 years. 25-30 (Water Buffalo); 15-25 (Cape Buffalo).
Diet Grass and hay. Grass.
Habitat Plains. Rugged lands. Really cold places. Cannot live in rugged conditions (Water). Can and mostly does live in rugged conditions (Cape).
Native to North and South America, Europe. Asia (Water), Africa (Cape).
Domesticated No. Yes (Water); No (Cape).
Used for Meat, clothing, shelter, weapons. Milk, cattle, meat (Water) . Once hunted as trophies, but now meat for hunters and other animals (Cape).
Population 2 million. 150 Million (Water); 160,000 (Cape).
Kingdom Animalia Animalia
Phylum Chordata Chordata
Class Mammalia Mammalia
Order Artiodactyla Artiodactyla
Family Bovidae Bovidae
Genus Bison Bubalus (Water Buffalo); Syncerus (Cape Buffalo)

Contents: Bison vs Buffalo

The bison hunt display at the entrance to the Museum of Man and Nature.
The bison hunt display at the entrance to the Museum of Man and Nature.

Differences in Physical characteristics

A buffalo
A buffalo


Buffalo are highly domesticated or raised for their meat, hence they have a very lazy and tame habitat. They are accustomed to living in mild temperatures. Bison, on the other hand, are not domesticated. Bison are accustomed to rugged conditions and can survive extreme conditions.

Geographical distribution

Bisons are native to North and South America (but are also found in Asia and Africa now). Buffaloes are native to Asia and Africa (and are found in other parts of the world now).


A bison cantering - set to motion using photos by Eadweard Muybridge
A bison cantering - set to motion using photos by Eadweard Muybridge

Bisons live in rugged conditions and hence live till their teenage years while domesticated buffaloes are known to live for 25-30 years.


Both Buffalo and Bison have similar diet - they thrive on grass. Both these animals drink gallons of water every day.


Buffaloes, except for one or two species are domesticated, while Bisons aren't domesticated. Buffalo milk is also used in Asia and Africa for consumption. Buffaloes are used as work animals extensively while bison are mostly wild in nature and aren't used for work. Both animals are also raised for their meat.


The Bison population is estimated to be around 2 million. There are about 20,000 wild bison and 400,000 commercial bison (raised for meat) in the United States.[1] Buffaloes are more numerous and their population is estimated to be around 150 million across the world.

Related Videos

The video below discusses the life of bison at Yellowstone National Park.

And here is a video of wolves hunting American bison on snow in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, Canada.


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Comments: Bison vs Buffalo

Anonymous comments (5)

July 16, 2012, 9:58pm

I agree with the "Buffalo" name for the American animal of the bison scientific name.

I have stories from 1910 in which my ancestors referred to these animals as buffalo while homesteading on the plains of North Dakota.

What's the big deal, anyway? In MA we call the brown thing we carry lunch in a "paper bag", in FL it's a "paper sack". In MA we wear "slacks", in FL they ask "you wear WHAT"?? In MA, we "put the dishes away", in FL they say they "put the dishes up". Dialectical differences. Same idea. Why change ?

— 24.โœ—.โœ—.153

September 24, 2013, 6:49am

Classification confused... how? Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, Sub-species.

— 66.โœ—.โœ—.103

February 4, 2011, 11:02pm

I would like to see some comparison on the American Buffalo (ext) and any differences between them and the African and Asian varieties.

— 86.โœ—.โœ—.235

April 5, 2013, 10:48am

Why is your classification hierarchy so confused. Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, ...

— 198.โœ—.โœ—.77

June 25, 2009, 4:14pm

I found this to be one of the more formidable arguments for distinguishing the difference between a Bison and a Buffalo. Many argue (and even get upset) that Bison are not Buffalo based solely on their Genus; however, if that were the case, then I could argue that a Cape Buffalo (Genus - Syncerus) and a Water Buffalo (Genus - Bubalus) are not buffalo either.

The side-by-side comparison is great. I wish you had also included the African Cape Buffalo as well.

— 75.โœ—.โœ—.4


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