The bison has joined the bald eagle, the national symbol since 1782, as America’s other symbolic animal, in an effort to prevent it from going extinct. President Obama signed the legislation honoring the American bison, also known as the buffalo, as the country’s first national mammal on Monday. In nature, physique, and symbolism, it is hard to visualize a creature more different than the bald eagle, which has been our national animal since 1782. The goal of this legislation is to prevent the nearly half a million North American bison, from going extinct and to recognize the bison’s cultural, ecological, historical, and economic importance to the United States, according to Cristian Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
A raptor known for its sharp-like talons and visual insight, the bald eagle has served as the imperial standard of the Roman legions, the Spanish Army, and many other forces. Not so the bison. North America’s largest land mammal, which weighs equal to a ton (2,000 pounds). This class includes two variants: the wood bison (Bison bison Athabasca) and the plains bison (Bison bison bison). The bison usually spends its early mornings grazing on grass, which it swallows almost without chewing and regurgitates its leisure hours, like many bovine species. One can easily know a bison’s mood from the movement of its tail. Its mood is usually, but not always, easygoing. A bison can run thirty-five miles per hour, as fast as a galloping horse. By identifying America with the bison, in addition to the eagle, the legislation may be viewed as having extended and deepened our national self-image, to cover not just the viewpoint of the powerful makers of history and also those who are its unfortunate bystanders.
American bison wasn’t one time on the edge of extinction. In the 1500s, about thirty million bison are said to have roamed in North America, but by the late 1800s, the numbers dropped to less than thousand, likely due to the climate change and human actions. Riding horses made it easier for humans to chase them all through the 1700s, until they started starving to death.
In the late 19th century, some ranchers rounded up the last survivors to start small herds. The Parks Service recognizes a “concerted national effort” to protect the species beginning on Dec. 8, 1905. The American Bison Society was formed by 16 people - with President Theodore Roosevelt and William Hornaday, who was the first director of the New York Zoological Park (now known as the Bronx Zoo). In this commencement, 15 captive-bred bisons were moved from the Bronx Zoo to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, the oldest managed wildlife facility in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife system.
Hopefully with time, we will see proud herds of bison thundering across the plains as they did in America’s past.