I recently read about the United States officially having its own national mammal. While I am happy that this guarantees some measure of protection for the bison (the winner of this pageant), I still find the concept somewhat strange and disappointing. For starters, while I understand the selection of an animal to symbolize a nation, I think going after a favorite mammal opens to the door to needing to select a national fish, reptile, bug, etc. I wonder whether or not this is an effective way to spend government time / taxpayer money? Some might say it’s valuable because it lends protection to the animals chosen; but I would suggest instead that it makes it harder for animals who don’t get selected. I think animals that are endangered or threatened should qualify for protection without having to be a national favorite.
Then there is the choice of the bison, itself. This is an animal that was nearly
hunted slaughtered to extinction, all as a means of trying to ‘subdue’ the Plains Indians who were trying to fight for their existence. People became American heroes based on the numbers of animals they shot (often from the luxury of a train car) and left lying out to rot. An entire species of animal was selected for extermination, for the simple hope that it would break the back of a people’s resistance to subjugation and the loss of their lifestyle. Using the logic that went into selecting a national mammal, perhaps the United States should have instead opted for a national people and then chosen the Indians – they are also endangered, the reservations in many cases represent some of the most atrocious living conditions in the entire nation, diabetes and other illnesses having reached epidemic proportions among them, many can’t even speak their own languages properly or remember the entirety of their ancestral ways. They are ‘native’ to the Americas, as well – maybe not as native as bald eagles or American buffalo, but I think 16,000 years qualifies as native enough. Oh, but wait, people are mammals, too – and the national mammal designation has already been taken – so I guess the Indians will have to go on without this degree of protection.
I am happy for the bison – I think the American buffalo is an amazing animal and I think what happened to the great herds a little over a hundred years ago was a shameful thing. I am happy to know that they are (at least in isolated, carefully managed places) making a comeback. Now that bison have this status / designation, I certainly wouldn’t try to take that away from them. But I think there are other animals in America that need the same level of protection and chance at strengthening their populations. Grizzly bears are an example that comes to mind, along with a few wolf species – and here is a list with more. I think, as I said, that it’s important to protect an animal (or plant) from extinction; but I think this can be done without proclaiming national favorite this, or national favorite that. Protection of a species should of course include the protection of said species’ natural habitat. Habitat protection might go further toward helping the environment in general; which helps us all. National mammal status seems to me to be a sort of token action.
Edited to add: It would seem the US also now has its own national beer.