From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.
We live in an increasingly crazy world that some believe is on a fast track to extinction. Perhaps, but despite humanity’s destructive tendencies you have to believe the world’s sanity can be restored.
That belief was reinforced recently when I watched a television documentary titled The American Buffalo.
It’s a film filled with depressing facts about how shockingly self-centred and destructive we humans are. It tells how human greed destroyed tens of millions of North American buffalo (scientifically known as bison) and left the species on the edge of extinction.
Fortunately, total extinction was prevented by a few people who understood that all living things are related and depend on each other for survival.
For example, tons of buffalo dung incubated insect eggs and larvae that fed the birds. Buffalo wallows, packed depressions created when the animals rolled on the soil to protect themselves from insect bites, created depressions that collected rain water needed by different types of Prairie vegetation.
Without the huge herds of bison the Prairie ecosystem changed dramatically, along with the wildlife that lives there. Those vast grasslands will never return to what they were, but the efforts of the people who saved the bison give us hope that we are capable of avoiding other environmental catastrophes.
Today there are an estimated 300,000 bison in Canada and the U.S., most of them living on ranches, parks or conservation areas. Most are believed to be descendants of 77 animals from five founding herds saved by environmentalists at the start of the 20th century.
In the 1700s and early 1800s there were an estimated 30 to 60 million bison in North America. Those numbers declined with the arrival of Europeans. Buffalo were slaughtered by the millions for their robes, and their tongues that were considered a culinary delicacy.
The slaughter increased with the arrival of the railways in the early 1870s and a new demand for buffalo hides that could be turned into leather drive belts for industrial machines.
The U.S. government actively endorsed the slaughter of buffalo as a way of forcing Indigenous Peoples onto reservations, who depended on buffalo for almost every aspect of life and without them had to accept reservation life.
By the late 1880s fewer than 100 buffalo were believed to be living wild in the United States. Commercial hunters, and joy hunters, had slaughtered them by the hundreds in single outings. They took the hides and tongues and left the rest to rot.
After the animals had rotted, others came, collected skulls and bones into towering piles and shipped them east to be sold and made into fertilizer, glue and ash. Bone material also was turned into commodities like bone china.
When the buffalo were gone, the hunters. Including commercial operations, turned to killing large numbers elk, deer, moose and other animals that could bring them money or prestige.
The story of the North American buffalo slaughter and the efforts that saved the species from total extinction offers a critical lesson required to save other species, and in the end, our own civilization.
Scientists from around the world have reported that humans have wiped out 60 per cent of mammals, fish and reptiles since 1970. Some have reported that humans have destroyed 83 per cent of mammals and plants since the dawn of civilization.
A 2018 World Wildlife Report reported that our annihilation of wildlife now is an emergency threatening ourselves. Studies are not hard to find these days about the world already having entered a sixth mass extinction.
People who study these things say that Nature is not just picturesque and nice to have around. It is a must for our own life support system.
The few people who saved the buffalo understood that. And now we all need to understand that by slowly killing Nature, we are slowly killing ourselves.