Bison vs. Buffalo: Ultimate Horn-Off: Difference Between Bison and Buffalo 2024

Bison vs. Buffalo: Ultimate Showdown: Difference Between Bison and Buffalo 2024

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by themubbi63

People often mix up Bison vs. Buffalo and for good reason. They’re big, ox-like, horned animals. They both belong to the Bovidae family. The early American settlers actually used to refer to the bison as ‘buffalo’. However, they’re completely different animals and the words shouldn’t be used interchangeably. For one thing, they don’t even exist on the same continent as each other.

Where Are They Found?

As it stands, Bison and Buffalos live on separate continents all together. The two existing species of bison live in North America and Europe (with the North American bison, particularly the herds in Yellowstone National Park being more well-known). Meanwhile, there are two kinds of buffalo – the water buffalo that lives in parts of south Asia and southeast Asia and the African that lives in Africa. 

American Bison

The heaviest species of land animal found in North America, the American buffalo historically roamed all the way from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years, white settlers hunted and killed large numbers of these animals and their population went down very much. Populations have gone up since and many bison are bred for conservation and as part of commercial herds.

Related Article: Bison In Wyoming: Everything You Need To Know About Them

The wild bison population is estimated to be around 15000. They live in large herds in Yellowstone National Park and the Henry Mountains in Utah. In Canada, they roam large parts of Utah and the Banff National Park and some herds can be spotted as far south as Chihuahua in Mexico. American bison can live in plains as well as mountainous areas.

European Bison

Yes, Europe has bison too, something a lot of people might not know. Just like the American variety, they’re the biggest terrestrial animals in Europe. Another tragic commonality they share with their American cousins? They were hunted almost to extinction by the twentieth century but have slightly recovered since then. A little over 2500 European bison are remaining in the wild.

These animals are mostly found in Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Belarus and Lithuania. The largest free-ranging herd lives in the Bialowieża Primeval Forest on the border of Poland and Belarus. This forest has housed these bison for hundreds of years and still houses around 1000 bison at present.

Water Buffalo

Buffalo, as opposed to bison, prefer warmer climates. The Asian water buffalo is usually found in tropical forests, wetlands, and grasslands in several countries in Asia – Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and India. Called water buffalo because of their fondness for wallowing in mud to keep cool in the extreme heat, they love eating a variety of aquatic plants.

Unlike bison, water buffalo aren’t in danger of going extinct. What they are in danger of is being domesticated. The number of wild water buffalo has decreased sharply over the years as these animals are often used for ploughing purposes. Nowadays, these cattle can be found in domestication in all the other continents but they’re native to southern Asia alone.

African Buffalo

And finally, there’s the African buffalo, of which there are several kinds of subspecies. They’re native to Africa and can be found in the African savannah. Also called Cape buffalo a lot of the time, these buffaloes are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa in the countries of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They’re most closely related to the water buffalo but are much more temperamental. It’s thought to be a big reason why this species hasn’t ever been domesticated. Still, because it’s classified as a game animal, the population of African buffalo is considered near threatened. There are about 398,000 to 401,000 African buffaloes left in the world.

Bison Vs. Buffalo Size Comparison

Now that we’ve established where bison and buffalo live, if you were nevertheless to see two specimens next to each other, they’d be easy enough to distinguish. Not only do they have separate physical features, their size difference is also notable. 

While all species of bison and buffalo are big animals, bison are generally bigger than buffaloes. In fact, American bison are the second largest species of Bovidae in the world (right after the Asian gaur). Both species of bison can grow to 6 feet at the shoulder while African and domesticated water buffaloes stand slightly smaller at 5 feet. However, the wild water buffalo can be considerably bigger, at 6.5 feet. 

Bison weigh around 2000 – 2200 lb. The African buffalo and domesticated water buffalo are smaller, weighing around 1800 to 2000 lb. Wild water buffalo can weigh a whopping 2600 lb.

American and European Bison6 feet2000 – 2200 lb
African and Domestic Water Buffalo5 feet1800 – 2000 lb
Wild Water Buffalo6.5 feet2600 lb

What’s the Deal with the Humps?

The easiest way to tell the two apart is probably the fact that bison have humps whereas buffaloes don’t. Bison have a large hump at their shoulder which, combined with their big heads, allow them to function as ploughs and sweep snow out of their way.

Buffaloes, given their habitat, obviously don’t need this function. Their backs are straight. They also have fine, long hair as compared to the rough, thick coats of the bison.

Head and Horns: Difference Between Bison and Buffalo

The head of the bison is much bigger than the head of the buffalo. Buffaloes have smaller heads that resemble the head of a cow. Bison, on the other hand, have simply massive heads. They also have a beard which the buffalo doesn’t have.

The easiest way to tell the two species apart are their horns. Bison have short, stubby, sharp horns on the sides of their forehead. Buffaloes have large, curved horns that can look like the handlebars of a motorcycle. In the case of the Asian water buffalo, these horns curve slightly backward. In the case of the African buffalo, it curves upwards like a handlebar mustache.


Bison and buffalo may look similar, but they’re distinct animals with fascinating differences. From their habitat and size to their humps, heads, and horns, these Bovidae have unique adaptations. So next time you see a picture of one, you’ll be a pro at telling them apart!


Are there any other physical differences between bison and buffalo?

Yes! Bison have thicker fur compared to the finer hair of buffalo. Additionally, bison have beards, while buffalo lack this facial feature.

Are bison and buffalo dangerous?

Both bison and buffalo can be dangerous if they feel threatened. It’s important to maintain a safe distance when observing these wild animals

Are bison and buffalo the same?

Bison and buffalo are not the same, though they are often confused. True buffaloes are native to Africa and Asia, while bison are found in North America and Europe.

Can bison and buffalo mate?

Bison and buffalo cannot mate as they are different species with distinct genetic backgrounds and reproductive behaviors.

Is buffalo or bison extinct?

Neither buffalo nor bison are extinct. However, certain buffalo species, like the African buffalo, face threats due to habitat loss and hunting, while bison populations have rebounded after being near extinction in the past.

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