244 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88864-237-7
DDC 599.73'58




Edited by John Foster, Dick Harrison, and I.S. MacLaren
Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is associate director of programs at the Canadian Museum
of Nature in Ottawa.


This volume, one in the Alberta Nature and Culture series, focuses on a
species that has become iconic in our view on the natural history of the
Prairies. Various chapters deal with the past and present of buffalo
(or, more precisely, bison), zoologically and in connection with humans.
Topics considered in the excellent zoological analyses collected here
include Eurasian ancestry, paleontological evidence, the geography and
demography of the two subspecies, wolves as major predators, the
epidemiology of associated pathogens, and the ecological impact of dams.
Anthropological chapters describe the importance of the buffalo to
tribal Indians, Métis, and contemporary groups, including Natives and
ranchers. Appropriate attention is paid to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump,
which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, particularly the manner in which
Natives and governmental staff have worked together in the development
of the displays and interpretations.

The discussions draw interestingly on many topics, such as the fur
trade and smallpox, that have dominated the social history of the West
over the past few centuries. Depictions of buffalo, culminating in the
superb work of Clarence Tillenius (best known for his dioramas at the
Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature) are well presented and Tillenius
himself briefly relates his experiences. On the central controversy of
dealing with the diseased herd in Wood Buffalo National Park, the sound
scientific case for eradication is solidly made, making the
opposition’s cultural concerns all the more lamentable. A final
chapter discusses buffalo chips; though the author includes experimental
data, he also (wisely) does not avoid the inevitably risible aspects of
the topic.

Especially for those who welcome an update to Roe’s classic The North
American Buffalo, this book provides an excellent contemporary overview
of a central species.


“Buffalo,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/12524.