May 10 – Make Yourself Herd

Today’s factismal: The official name for the USA’s National Mammal is Bison bison bison.

As of May 9, it is official: The United States of America has a National Mammal. And what a mammal it is! An adult male stands 6 ft tall at the hump and weighs as much as a car, making it the largest mammal by weight in North America. An adult female is nearly as tall but weighs a dainty 1,000 pounds. As for those cute babies, they are three feet tall and start out at 60 pounds. (Yowch!) And even though many people call it a buffalo, the animals official name is Bison. Actually, it is Bison (genus) bison (species) bison (subspecies). Though many people call it a buffalo, that is a buffa-no; the buffalo is native to Europe and Asia and is not found in North America (except at a zoo).

A bison grazing near the Great Salt Lake (My camera)

A bison grazing near the Great Salt Lake
(My camera)

The bison, on the other hand, is native to North America. At one point, these majestic animals roamed all over the continent. If we go back a mere 15,000 years or so, you could find bison in Alaska, Newfoundland, Georgia, Texas, California, and all points in between. But changing climates drove the bison away from the coasts, restricting their range. And then came man. Early indigenous Americans were the first to discover that bison were tasty and started hunting them using atlatls (think of it as a spear on steroids) and by running them off of cliffs (instant hamburger). When Europeans started to settle the West, they nearly settled the bison as well. Using repeating firearms, they were able to slaughter thousands of bison each day. The pelts were used for leather; the meat was left to rot. By the end of the 19th century, the number of bison had dwindled to a few hundred, many of which were in small, protected herds on private land.

Why did the bion cross the road? (My camera)

Why did the bison cross the road?
(My camera)

Lucky for the bison, many people loved them and worked hard to keep the species alive. The most influential group was the American Bison Society. Starting with a small herd in what would become the Bronx Zoo,they bred bison and shipped them across the country to start new herds. Thanks to their efforts and those of other conservation groups,  there are bison herds in all fifty states. Public lands support seventeen herds of bison with a total of  10,000 animals; nearly half of them live in Yellowstone, which is also the only place in North America that has had bison continuously for more than 10,000 years!

Bison in Yellowstone (My camera)

Bison in Yellowstone
(My camera)

So celebrate our new National Mammal today. Make yourself herd!

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