Leaders of the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and its Bronx Zoo, together with President Theodore Roosevelt and other conservationists, established the American Bison Society (ABS) in 1905. The fledgling group soon launched a public campaign to prevent the extinction of the American bison. In the previous half-century, 30 million to 60 million animals had been slaughtered, leaving just over 500 animals in the United States by the late 1800s.
The devastation was ecological and cultural – and it was calculated. Many of the leaders of the time, including President Ulysses S. Grant, saw buffalo eradication as a solution to the “Indian Problem.” In 1867, U.S. Lt. Col. Richard Dodge made this sentiment clear when he said, “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”
At the time, ABS’ clarion call was primarily an ecological one. When it was clear extinction had been avoided, ABS wound down. But in 2005, the Wildlife Conservation Society, as NYZS had been renamed, reestablished ABS to create a platform from which to launch a bolder and transformative vision: the cultural and ecological restoration of bison across North America.