The bald eagle soared in American imaginations for years as our national icon. But now, it has a friend of the same standing: The Buffalo. Recently, the National Bison Legacy Act aimed not only to honor the historical symbol of the country, but draw attention and concern to their dwindling numbers. The bison is a true symbol of the rugged resistance, survival, and strife of Americans, and was an invaluable asset to our early American ancestors.
Here are a few facts every American should know about these awesome creatures.
1. The funny hump back associated with the bison is actually a mountain of muscle that allows the animal to use his horns to plow snow or battle other bison.
2. Check your nickels! The bison was featured on the back of the 1936 coin.
3. Native Americans depended on the bison for survival. They were seen as healthy, family sustaining animals and revered by many tribes. Settlers actually started wiping out bison in order to force Native Americans to hand over their land.
4. Yes, bison and buffalo are different. Water buffalo are native to Africa and Asia and have horns that make a cap over heads. Bison are the furry, hunchbacked creatures with curved horns and a beard.
5. So how did the bison get dubbed as buffalo? Early Americans called the creatures “bufello,” due to the similar appearance, and the name just stuck.
6. Before European settlers arrived in North America, more than 30 billion bison roamed as far east as New York. Hunting reduced numbers to a mere 1,000 before activists like Teddy Roosevelt began preservation programs.
7. Bison killing contests were popular. One man from Kansas even managed to kill 120 bison in 40 minutes.
8. Today Yellowstone Park has the most active buffalo preservation initiatives. When President Roosevelt first established it, the national army actually had to guard bison from greedy hunters.
9. There are currently 30,000 wild buffalo in the U.S. mid-West, and another 400,000 raised as livestock.
10. Bison are actually a much healthier and more sustainable source of food. Cattle actually produce large amounts of methane that is contributing to a greenhouse gas effect in our climate. Not to mention, beef contains way more fat, calories, and growth hormones. And because bison are generally grass fed and allowed to roam, whereas cattle are confined and chemically altered, bison meat often tastes better and is served with less guilt! It has become a pillar of sustainable and healthy eating.
11. Fossils found in Yellowstone Park actually prove that bison and their ancestors existed even in prehistoric times! Talk about resilience.
12. Baby bison are referred to as Red Dogs, because of their adorable red fur.
13. Bison are so tough that they can survive harsh North American winters. Their fur is so thick that it can hold a layer of snow without letting out enough body heat to melt any of it.
14. Our national animal eats mainly grass—and a lot of it. Bison will graze for up to 11 hours a day!