'Buffalo' is the popular name often used to describe North American bison; however, this is a misnomer. In fact, buffalo are distinctly different animals from bison. Although both bison and buffalo belong to the same family, Bovidae, true 'buffalo' are native only to Africa and Asia.
Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
This is the only African species of buffalo.
Water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)
This species is highly domesticated across Asia, although some rare wild herds still exist.
Historians are undecided on the origin of buffalo as the name for the North American bison, although some speculate that early European explorers likened the unknown bison to the more familiar African and Asian buffalo. A related view is that the word ‘buffalo’ is derived from terms in other languages used by explorers to describe the unfamiliar beast, including, bisonte, buffes, buffelo, buffles, and buffalo. These terms are similar to bufle and buffe, which were commonly used to refer to any animal that provided good hide for buff leather. Despite the misnomer, the term ‘buffalo’ has been used interchangeably with ‘bison’ since early explorers first discovered the North American species, and has become entrenched as a colloquialism in North American culture and language.