Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Home Where No Buffalo Roam

Bison Family

Another picture taken during our morning walk in the park. A buffalo family. Actually a bison family, buffalo being a misnomer. But these bison are made of bronze and they are the only ones we are likely to see.

The history of this animal in North America is very, very sad. Or should I say that, of their 100,000 year sojourn here, the last few hundred years have been a disaster. It is no coincidence that this period coincides with the presence of Europeans in the New World.

Before the Europeans arrived, there were an estimated 30-70 million bison in this continent. They stretched from Alaska into Mexico. Fossil remains have been found of herds from more than 100,000 years ago.

The herds were immense. They stretched beyond the horizon. You could stand in one spot, while the bison were on the move, and they would take days to go past you.

Before the arrival of Europeans bison provided native Americans with an unending supply of food and raw material for tools, clothing and other products. Also, they were considered to be spiritual beings the consumption of which would sustain the inner life.

Herds could number from 500 to more than 500,000. This huge natural resource and triumph of nature was carelessly slaughtered, within a few decades, by Europeans for greed, profit, fun and sport. The pieces taken were generally hides and tongues – the rest was wasted.

Even more shocking, bison were deliberately wiped out as part of successful government policy to destroy the native Americans.

A poignant fact is that these creatures did not originate in North America, but in Europe. Long long ago they crossed the land bridge which then existed between Asia and Alaska. They thrived and prospered. But eventually Europeans followed them and the idyll was quickly ended.

By 1889, less than 1,000 bison were left and those were saved by the combined efforts of William Hornaday (Director of the Bronx Zoo) and a small group of ranchers. In 1905, the American Bison Society was formed to save the bison and protect rangeland for the animals. Today, those efforts are carried on by the National Bison Association and the Canadian Bison Association. The bison herds of today number in excess of 350,000 and are growing.

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