(image via http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/files/2013/11/Julie-Larsen-Maher-5816-American-Bison-in-wild-YELL-05-05-06.jpg)
Bison will wake up everyday from now on across the U.S., they will take the hard hits from sun, snow, wind, rain, they will duel with wolves and hunters, because finally, fine-al-lee, they’ve done that thing that they were born for, they were made for, their ancestors took knocks from tusks and spears and fangs for; they’re now the national mammal of the U.S. of A, my friends; they’re the proud hairy beasts of God’s own freedom country.
But they won’t. They’ll snuffle mounds of each other’s faeces, they’ll bray strangely at slight sounds among the woods. If they saw a flag, maybe they’d try and eat it, but more likely it’d be an annoyance, a brightly coloured occurrence in a day’s plan of eating, crapping, roaming territories and, at some point, shagging.
Glancing over the fine people’s at wikipedia’s list of ‘national animals’ I see a bit of a weird trend; migratory birds and sea creatures are ‘claimed’ as some nation or another’s animal. The animal’s feelings asides (sorry about that, Hawksbill Turtle through to peregrine falcon.) How can these animals represent a nation when they’re busy thinking of the next place they need to get to? Some countries have gone with safe bets;
national bird is the emu, which can’t fly, so it has no choice but to stay in Australia and
be the Australian national bird for all the Australians.
I’m choosing to look at this globally because
Britain is a bit embarrassing. A
national animal is a lion. Your friendly neighbourhood lion, spotted waiting
for the bus on Lewes road, having a pint at the harbour in Falmouth,
humming to itself on the Victoria
line. Yes. Lions. The English kind. At least Wales
have got this thing right; the Welsh dragon and the Scottish Unicorn, both as
equally real and palpable as a national identity should be.
What I really want to talk about is what making an animal the representative of a nation means. What does it mean to the animal? This is obvious enough; nothing. An animal sees none of the borders or details of cartography that we have coded out over the centuries. They have no way of understanding or appreciating any facet of a nation’s unifying identities. The bison will join the bald eagle in having no feelings either way on the
Iraq war, on George Washington,
even on Donald Trump.
The creation of a national animal reverberates with the same distraction that a zoo or mass conservation effort holds; some animals are allowed to live. People will congratulate the bison while fellow bovines are churned through the slaughterhouse. The bison, if killed, will join Cecil the lion in the list of animals that we’re going to get upset about, that we’re going to fight for. Chicken no.4587’s neck is broken, and the sound is unnoticed, while everyone screams at markets for dog meat for being inhumane.
The national animal can be filed away; it is safe. Another corner of nature is made clean and shiny, part of the booming mirror we like to see; a world of humans, and symbols for humans to appreciate. The bison is no longer a bison; it is an aspect of human patriotic thought, feeling & national identity. Yet again, animal silence is not translated, not appreciated; it isn’t even interpreted, just conflated, painted over. The national animal now speaks, and its voice trills with the vibrant colours of the flag of the human nation it now symbolizes.