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Published on 2012-06-09 (09 June 2012)
You've all heard of Africa's Big 5, but North America's Big 5 would happily step into the ring to tussle for the world championship title any time. With huge areas of American wilderness areas now protected, animals large and small are free to roam and are enjoying something of a comeback in a new era of conservation...
Bison - Two meters tall and weighing in at over 1000kg, the American Bison, once inhabited the Great Plains of North America in massive herds, and at one point were the most numerous species of large wild mammal on earth, numbering between 60 to 100 million. Playing an integral part in the survival of the Plains Indian, they were hunted ceaselessly in the 19th Century by the white man, until they numbered just a few hundred animals. They now number 350,000, with Yellowstone NP home to the only continuously wild herd.
Grizzly Bear - Grizzlies are regarded as one of the most aggressive species of bear. With males growing to a massive 8 ft in height, and weighing in at over 450kg, this ain't no Winnie the Pooh. Put under pressure by settlers invading their territories during the Gold Rush of the 1840's, Grizzly bears now range from Alaska, through Canada, and as far south as Yellowstone NP and number approximately 60,000 in all, and have been taken off Yellowstone National Parks endangered list.
Grey Wolf - A hardy Ice-Age survivor is currently on the comeback with up to 9000 wolves in the United States, 7000 in Alaska and more than 50,000 across Canada. With big males standing 1 meter tall and weighing close to 80kg, a pack of grey wolves are more than a match for a large Elk, their principle prey, and can even tackle Bison. 14 Canadian Grey Wolves were successfully reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, with the population at close to 300 today, helping improve the bio-diversity within the park.
Moose - A rather gangley looking beast, the mighty Moose is the largest of the dear family. In North America the Moose range includes almost all of Canada, most of central and western Alaska, much of New England and upstate New York, as well as the upper Rocky Mountains. Big males can be up to 7 ft at the shoulder and over 700kg with the largest recorded Bull shot in 1897 weighing a massive 818 kg. Full grown Moose have few enemies but a pack of wolves can bring one down and they are occasionally preyed on by Grizzly Bears.
Bald Eagle - The national symbol of the USA, the Bald Eagle sports an impressive two meter wingspan and builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 2.5 meters wide. Once a common sight in much of the continent the Bald Eagle population was decimating in the 1900's by the use of the pesticide DDT, which resulted in brittle eggshells. The bald eagle population plummeted from 400,000 birds in the 1700s to just 412 nesting pairs in the 1950's. The banning of DDT saw the population rebound to over 100,000 birds in 1992, with the largest resident population found in Alaska.
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