Bison have a new title. . .The country’s first national mammal!
On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, designating the North American bison as the United States’ first national mammal.
Now joining the bald eagle as a national symbol, our newest addition couldn’t be more fitting to represent this amazing country. Like our national bird, the bison is a true conservation success story.
Before the arrival of European settlers, millions of these giant herbivores roamed the great plains of the vast North American continent. They were- and still are- keystone species in the grassland environments. However, by the late 1800’s, only a few hundred dotted the landscape. When European settlers began exploring the West, they reduced the species’ habitat and hunted them dangerously close to extinction. Luckily, a few devoted conservationists saw the historical-and environmental- value in these creatures and saved the bison from their bleak future.
Discover more about the North American bison with these fun facts:
1. Bison are the largest North American land mammal. Weighing in at a whopping 2,200 pounds ( 998 kilograms), standing 6 feet at the hump, and measuring 10-12 feet from nose to rump, the bison bull is king of the North American continent.
2. What’s the difference between a bison and a buffalo? ‘Bison’ is the correct term when referring to our national mammal. However, ‘American buffalo’ is commonly used, too. Fun fact: True buffalo are found in Asia and Africa.
3. Baby bison are born orange. Also known as ‘red dogs,’ a calf is born with a beautiful rust colored coat.
4. Bison are fast. Don’t let their size and lazy grazing fool you. These animals are incredibly agile and can charge up to 35 mph.
5. Bison help burned forests. These grassland giants are literally massive cows. They are ruminants with 4-chambered stomachs and are mainly grazers, preferring to eat grass over shrubs and bushes. After a fire has burned through a forest, grass is the first to grow. Bison lower the competition for other plants to regrow in the area by keeping the grass short.
There is still so many more amazing facts . . . let’s do a few more!
6. You can tell a bison’s mood by its tail. A tail in the air means you better BEWARE!
7. A rabbit eats more than a bison. Because it is a ruminant, bison take a very long time to digest the grass they eat. This allows them to not eat as much and can pull more nutrition from poor quality food than most other herbivores.
8. Bison are important in Native American history. Since the beginning of Native American history, this iconic animal has played a crucial role in their survival and spiritual . They were so important that army officials in the 1800’s began killing off bison in attempt to starve the Native Americans off the land.
9. The sacred ‘White Buffalo.’ American bison possessing white fur is considered sacred or spiritually significant in several Native American religions; therefore, such buffalo are often visited for prayer and other religious rituals.
9. The European bison is also known as a wisent. The European bison, or wisent, is smaller than their American cousin. They also have a higher positioned head, allowing it to be more of a browser than a grazer. Unfortunately, the wisent was hunted to extinction in most countries across Europe and in 1927 the last wild one was killed by poachers in southern Russia. Sadly, fewer than 50 wisents existed in zoos when the last wild bison was killed. Like our North American bison, they have also made a small comeback through habitat protection and captive breeding.
Did you learn something new about the American bison? What was it?
Until next time my friends,
this is Ms. Mallory inviting you to. . .