President Obama signed a law on Monday declaring the bison as America’s national mammal. For those bald eagle fans, don’t worry! The bald eagle remains the national animal (and national bird) of the United States.
The new law, called the National Bison Legacy Act, creates an additional designation for a special native mammal in America. Animals are classified as mammals when:
- they are warm blooded vertebrates
- they possess hair or fur, and
- they nourish their young with milk produced by mammary glands
The bison is an excellent choice for the honor of national mammal. Bison once numbered in the millions in the United States. Their range stretched from Canada to Mexico.
Many Native American tribes relied heavily on bison as a source of food and clothing, and they considered it of great spiritual significance. When white settlers spread into the Great Plains, they decimated the bison population, and the bison nearly went extinct.
Due to conservationist efforts starting in the early 20th century, the bison was saved from extinction. But they are still classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. You can help in their preservation by adopting a bison via the Defenders of Wildlife or donating toward the purchase of prairie land for reserves at the American Prairie Foundation.
To learn more about bison, see our American bison facts article.
At a national conference held in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Wildlife Conservation Society released a survey regarding how people view the American bison. According to the results, most of the people surveyed value the herd animal as a national symbol. However, less than 10% of those surveyed understood the status of the bison population in North America today.
Before European settlers came to the New World, the American bison numbered at around 30 million, and their range stretched all the way from Alaska to Mexico. Today, only 16,000 bison freely roam in North America.
The Wildlife Conservation Society hopes to promote the restoration of bison populations by appealing to government agencies, conservation groups, and ranchers. Ecological restoration of the American bison would mean that large herds could roam freely within their historic range and interact with other native species.
For more info: Environmental News Service – “Americans Love Bison, Don’t Know the Risks They Face”
For more information about the American bison, their conservation status, and what you can do to help the bison, view Animal Fact Guide’s American bison article.