One Nation Under Bison: Meet America’s National Mammal

For those of you who weren’t sufficed by the bald eagle, meet the bison.

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President Obama signed a law on Monday, making the bison the country’s first mammal, reported the New York Times. Fear not bald eagle. You’re still number one in America’s hearts, but you’re just not a mammal.

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Long ago, the bison once freely roamed across North America, reported the Times. The mighty, yet adorably furry creature occupied from Alaska’s forest to Mexico’s grasslands. While the bison remains the largest mammal in North America, according to the New York Times, the creature has still fallen on hard times. There are only about tens of thousands left in the country. Most of these remaining bison now are preserved in the United States National Park System, explains a story written by the Times.

While the mammal can weigh up to a ton when fully matured and has the ability to run 35 miles per hour, they still couldn’t get away fast enough from hunters during the 19th century, wrote the New York Times. Well, then again, the bisons are partially to blame since the animals tend to travel in packs, making it easy for Native Americans to get ahold of the mammal and use them for food and clothing.

For those of you who are wondering, “Why are we making the bison a national conversation,” there is a logical answer. Thanks to the lobbying done by a group of conservatives, tribal groups such as the InterTribal Buffalo Council, and ranchers who continue to rely on the animal for financial purposes, our country now has a designated mammal, according to the Washington Post. The InterTribal Buffalo Council’s sole purpose is to “restore bison to Indian nations in a manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices,” according to their website’s homepage.

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The Wildlife Conservation Society was also instrumental in passing legislation to make the bison the national mammal. The organization’s president, Cristián Samper, explained how the bison is representative of “the highest ideals of America: unity, resilience and healthy landscapes and communities,” explains a piece done by the Washington Post. The Wildlife Conservation society also has a designated program for bison preservation. Keith Aune, the director of the program, recently appeared on Boston’s NPR show Here & Now, explaining the importance of the animal.

“For us, there are several really important reasons we think bison deserve this designation. First off, it’s a very economically important animal. There’s a tremendous commercial industry, and it’s a tremendous good red meat. And it also is ecologically very important. Our healthy prairies are really dependent on not just any grazing, but the right type of grazing – and bison are entirely adapted to the Great Plains and create that scenario.”

Eager to meet some bison after reading about them? Well, be careful because they aren’t necessarily the friendliest of animals. According to McClatchy DC’s website, the animal is quite temperamental. Bison are known to charge people who come too close to them. One can also tell how a bison feels by the way they move their tail. If their tails are hanging down and occasionally switches, they are calm, explains the article on McClatchy DC. If a bison is poised in an upright position, they are likely ready to charge. Still, even if the tail appears to be friendly-looking, always be weary when approaching this moody creature.

[Photo By David McNew/Getty Images]