The bison was once on the brink of extinction. Today, it is the national mammal of the US.
WWF’s Bison Initiative Coordinator for Northern Great Plains program Dennis Jorgensen says:
“The plains bison’s remarkable recovery from near extinction in the 20th century is an important reminder that we can change the course of history when we work together to save an imperiled species.”
The bison received bipartisan support when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Bison Legacy Act – declaring the bison the national mammal – on April 26 and President Obama signed it into law on May 9.
Historically, there was an estimated 30-60 million plains bison in America’s grasslands. But human expansion and hunting decimated the bison population, leaving just 500 animals at the end of the 20th century.
But the bison, strong and resilient, was able to make a comeback with the help of conservationists, Native American communities, ranchers, industrialists, and other concerned citizens. Their efforts resulted in one of America’s first conservation success stories, as 20,000 or so bison were living in the US by the 1930’s.
Beyond the conservation implications of making the bison the national mammal, the species embodies many qualities that the US wants represented. The bison, which survived the Ice Age, is the nation’s largest land mammal and is a long-standing symbol of freedom, strength, and self-determination. It is on the Buffalo Nickel as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior’s official seal.
As many as 100,000 elephants fell victim to poaching in just two years, between 2010 and 2012.
In the elephant poaching world, poachers target males first because they have the largest tusks and then they move on to females. You’d think this latter move would break up elephant societies, as they are matriarchal, but that isn’t the case.
So how do elephant societies survive such an aggressive onslaught?
A new study found that the elephants’ extended families are stepping up to lead the societies when matriarchs were killed. The elephants’ social structure is maintained because the middle-aged females – who were now the oldest in the group – took over leadership roles. These females had enough social knowledge to recreate patterns they learned from the elders.
The study reviewed 16 years of data on elephants from Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, tracking which individual elephants associated themselves with others. The elephants were identified by ear shape, body markings, or other unique characteristics.
Doctoral student at Colorado State University who coauthored the study, Shifra Goldenberg, says:
“It shows that elephants are socially resilient. In a highly social species, they depend on social bonds, so the fact that we haven’t seen social collapse is good news.”
Still, there are other unknown implications to losing the oldest females, including its effects on elephant calf survival, communication patterns and long-term knowledge of the area and range.