Ryan Hagerty / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, officially naming the American bison the national mammal of the United States. The bison joins other symbols of our country, such as the Bald Eagle. The two species share a common thread – they both embody landmark conservation stories.
From prehistoric periods to the 1800s, the Bison population tumbled from millions to only a few hundred. Their habitats were being destroyed from human sprawl and they were being hunted. If not for strong conservation efforts, the bison would be extinct today.
The bison is a majestic animal and is the largest terrestrial mammal in North America. However, don’t let their size fool you. Reaching astonishing speeds up to 35 miles per hour, they are fast runners as well as strong swimmers.
This new law sheds light on the positive ripple effect of conservation acts performed by zoological institutions. There is a deeply rooted connection between the bison and the history of Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo. Once a bison hunter, Teddy Roosevelt turned conservationist and co-founded The American Bison Society. Roosevelt partnered in this endeavor with William Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo. The efforts of the ABS prevented the imminent extinction of the American bison and many consider this our nation’s very first successful conservation story.