When Did the American Bison near Extinction?
The American bison were near to extinction by 1900, although they numbered more than 60 million when the white man first arrived in their feeding grounds. Buffalo, as the bison were commonly called, were the prime essential of the Plains Indian’s economy. The powerful animals’ meat, bones, and hide provided the Indian with food, medicine, clothing and shelter.
At first the white man, too, killed the buffalo for meat and hides. But after 1850, as the American-Indian war neared its climax, United States soldiers began to slaughter the animals indiscriminately to force the Indians to leave their homelands. With the advent of the railroad the killing of the bison became a sport. Travelers would shoot from railroad carriages, leaving the carcasses to rot by the tracks. In less than 50 years about 50 million buffalo had been exterminated.
The voices of those who wished to save the animal from extinction were heeded just in time. From the few survivors, new herds were reared. Today buffalo are increasing in numbers, with herds totaling several thousand.
During the population bottleneck, after the great slaughter of American bison during the 1800s, the number of bison remaining alive in North America declined to as low as 541. During that period, a handful of ranchers gathered remnants of the existing herds to save the species from extinction. These ranchers bred some of the bison with cattle in an effort to produce “cattlo”.
Accidental crossings were also known to occur. Generally, male domestic bulls were crossed with buffalo cows, producing offspring of which only the females were fertile. The crossbred animals did not demonstrate any form of hybrid vigor, so the practice was abandoned.
The proportion of cattle DNA that has been measured in introgressed individuals and bison herds today is typically quite low, ranging from 0.56 to 1.8%. In the United States, many ranchers are now using DNA testing to cull the residual cattle genetics from their bison herds. The U.S. National Bison Association has adopted a code of ethics which prohibits its members from deliberately crossbreeding bison with any other species.
The American bison is the national mammal of the United States. The bison is a popular symbol in the Great Plains states: Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming have adopted the animal as their official state mammal, and many sports teams have chosen the bison as their mascot. In Canada, the bison is the official animal of the province of Manitoba and appears on the Manitoba flag. It is also used in the official coat of arms of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.