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190 × 135 × 13 mm
200 pages
106 illustrations, 84 in colour
01 Oct 2015

Bison Desmond Morris

Stoic, regal and formidable in both size and strength, the bison has long epitomized the American West. From Native American spiritual figure to abused resource to powerful symbol of wildlife preservation, the bison is a microcosm of the West itself, and in this book, renowned zoologist Desmond Morris tells its fascinating story from the first evidence of its fossil record two million years ago to today.

Exploring the evolution and habitat of the two remaining species – the European wisent and the American bison – this book shows that, while generally seen as gentle and calm, bison in fact are very unpredictable, liable to attack at any moment. Bison once ranged across the Great Plains of North America in vast herds, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century they numbered in the tens of millions. Humans were responsible for the bison’s near extinction in North America, slaughtering an estimated 50 million and reducing the bison population to less than 1,000 by 1890. However, more recent efforts at bringing them back have succeeded to the point that their domestically raised meat has now become a popular alternative to beef in the U.S. Throughout Bison, natural history is balanced with cultural history: the lore of the bison and the spirit of the West. The result is an absorbing story of one of the most majestic creatures to walk the earth.

‘In Bison, Desmond Morris traces the past and present of this massive animal who resembles the front half of a mountain gorilla and the rear half of a racehorse . . . His excellent chapters on bison in art, and bison social and natural history, are heightened by the photographs including a bison male showing the flared-nose flehmen response to a females sexual fragrance for which this Animal series from Reaktion is renowned. Morriss evident compassion for the sustained suffering of this majestic animal is welcome.’ — TLS

‘This small book offers a very comprehensive coverage of bison biology, from the days when humans hunted them with spears 4000 years ago to present-day conservation efforts and commercial exploitation. Like other books in this series, this one has plenty of illustrations (sixty-eight of them in color) and reviews the history of bison as emblems, in postage stamps, and as food and from a biological viewpoint. Their ecology, evolution, colonization of New and Old Worlds, behavior, predators, its all there even a list of bison-related films.’ — Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

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Desmond Morris is a world-renowned zoologist and television presenter, and the author of many best-selling books on human and animal behaviour, including Cats in Art (Reaktion, 2017). He has also written four books in Reaktion’s Animal series.


1 Prehistoric Bison

2 Bison in European History

3 Bison in American History

4 Bison as Food

5 Bison as Emblems

6 Bison as a Visual Image

7 Bison as Companions

8 Bison in Evolution

9 Bison in Natural History

Appendix 1: Bison in Films

Appendix 2: Close Relatives of the Bison

Appendix 3: Bison Hybrids



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Associations and Websites

Photo Acknowledgements