And the New National Mammal Is…the American Bison

The American bison rebounded from near extinction and is now the official mammal of the United States. REUTERS

The United States has selected a national mammal—and, no, it's not humans.

The American bison (Bison bison bison) is now the official mammalian species of the land, putting it on the same symbolic pedestal as the bald eagle when it comes to national icons. The designation was signed into law by President Barack Obama May 9, after legislation supporting the move—the National Bison Legacy Act—was approved by the House and Senate in April.

Also known as buffalo, bisons were nearly exterminated by the country's settlers in an attempt to wipe out the plains Indians, who relied on the animal for food and clothing. The catastrophic decline of the animals coincided with the fall of the Comanche, ending in the 1860s, which until that point had offered surprising resistance to the westward expansion of the nascent United States. The animals have since rebounded, with an estimated 30,000 in the wild and "conservation herds" in the U.S. and Canada, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

As befits the current Congress, the act itself doesn't actually accomplish anything concrete: It is purely symbolic. "Nothing in this act or the adoption of the North American bison as the national mammal of the United States shall be construed or used as a reason to alter, change, modify, or otherwise affect any plan, policy, management decision, regulation, or other action by the federal government," the last clause of the bill reads.

The bill also contains these random facts about the bison, as noted by USA Today:

  • A bison is portrayed on two state flags;
  • The bison has been adopted by three states as their official mammal or animal;
  • A bison has been depicted on the official seal of the Department of the Interior since 1912;
  • The buffalo nickel played an important role in modernizing the currency of the United States;
  • Several sports teams have the bison as a mascot, which highlights the iconic significance of bison in the United States.

And here's one final fact: The word buffalo can also be used a verb, meaning bewilder, baffle or bamboozle. Thus explains one of the strangest sentences in the English language: "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."