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Desert Diary


"Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam" is the opening of a classic American song. If taken literally, it couldn't refer to America, where the few buffalo are incarcerated in zoos. In practice, of course, just another instance of an Old World common name being transferred to a different, New World species—to the American Bison.

Cortez is said to have had observed a Bison in Montezuma's menagerie in what now is Mexico City. However, the natural range of Bison was from the northern reaches of Mexico into the United States and Canada. Estimated to have a population of some 60 million individuals in the 1500s, most were concentrated in the grasslands of the Great Plains. The Chihuahuan Desert apparently supported only small, scattered herds in its northern parts, with these being eradicated in late prehistoric or early historic time. Today, a small, introduced herd occurs in northern Chihuahua south of the bootheel of New Mexico. And which, whenever the fancy strikes, moves into New Mexico, unimpeded by fences that a ton of Bison easily renders useless.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Bison (Bison bison). Photograph by Ray Rauch.



Meagher, M. 1986. Bison bison. Mammalian Species. American Society of Mammalogists, 266.