Everyone knows there is nothing more American than a bald eagle, but as of May 9, 2016, the American bison is getting ready to join the “ultra-American” ranks. Named as the official mammal of the United State by current president Barrack Obama, this was not just a fly by night decision. Instead, there are quite a few good reasons this animal has earned its place and a recent release by the Department of Interior outlines some of these. As a summary, here are some reasons we agree with this decision.
Bison are truly majestic creatures and it just so happens they are the largest mammals in North America. The male Bison can weight a ton, literally (that means 2,000 lbs). Even at birth, they weight between 30-70 lbs. so if you think pushing your baby out was tough, remember it’s all about perspective. These babies are often called “red dogs,” a nickname earned because the orange-red color of their fur at birth. As they age, this changes to the brown you expect from an adult.
In general, you can actually judge a bison’s mood by its tail. When its calm, this large mammal will typically be switching its tail back and forth without care. If you see its tail stand up straigtht at any time, be prepared to get out of the way. This is often a sign that it is ready to charge. Of course, they do tend to be a bit unpredictable, so really it could randomly charge. So, probably best not to try and get close to one of these behemoths.
If their propensity to charge isn’t enough to keep you away, also consider they can run at speeds up to 35 mph and are agile and ready to swim. Putting aside the danger you might face for intruding, it is nice to know that bison are herbivores and actually spend a long work day (9-11 hours) foraging for food. This healthy diet of theirs allows them to live anywhere from 10-20 years, with some of them even outlasting that upper end. While these regal creatures are actually near-sighted, it is important to realize they have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, so don’t think you can get away by slipping under their sight.
While the American bison might be the largest mammal on the continent, there was a time when their ancestors were even bigger. Fossil records from 400,000 years ago show that their ancestors migrated from Asia and some had horns alone that were up to 9 feet long. For Native American’s, bison have been an integral part of history, as they have been used for food, clothing, shelter and just about anything else you can think of. Realizing the historical importance, there have been plenty of conservation efforts to preserve this species. Even Teddy Rosevelt worked on keeping these guys around.