Saturday, September 22, 2018 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

Where to See the Largest North American Animals in Their Natural Habitats

Until their extinction at the end of the ice age, there were some fairly large animals roaming North America. Giant armadillo-like rodents, huge sloths, and the American cheetah were among some of them. To this day scientist are still puzzled by what caused their extinction 10,000 years ago, but at one time this continent now inhabited by millions of people belonged to them.

It’s probably best for humankind that some of these carnivorous creatures are no longer around, but North America is still home to many oversized animals. These days though, there is little fear of becoming dinner for one of them.
 
The largest animals in North America can be viewed in their natural habitats if you know where to find them. Here are the biggest of the big and where they are.

Bison

Buffalo once roamed North American grasslands in huge herds. Their meat was consumed and their fur used in clothing and blankets by Native-Americans who controlled the number of buffalo they would kill in efforts to maintain their plentiful bounty. It wasn’t until greed-stricken settlers began killing them for their pricey fur that the species almost reached extinction. Some of them weighing in at 2000 pounds provided enough fur to maintain a settlers lifestyle for several months. Bison once numbered somewhere between 40-60 million. Today there are roughly 90,000, with 85% of them being privately owned for meat production.

Buffalo herds can still be found but they now roam on protected land in safety. Killing or even harming a wild bison is a quick way to experience the gastronomical delights of prison food.
 
Bison 2
Yellowstone National Park is the best place to observe buffalo in their natural habitat. They have roamed the grounds of Yellowstone since prehistoric times and now comprise the largest buffalo herd on public land in America. The bison are pure, meaning they have not been hybridized by breeding them with cattle.

The Yellowstone buffalo still practice the wild rituals of their ancient ancestors. During mating season they congregate to compete for a mate, and the entire herd will migrate to various areas of the park in Wyoming and Montana.

The Witchita Mountains in Lawton, Oklahoma, is another perfect spot for bison watching. Buffalo roam freely throughout the 59,000-acre wildlife refuge and live side-by-side with prairie dogs, longhorn cattle, deer, and elk.

Catalina Island in California was used as the set for many western movies in the 40’s and 50’s because of the large number of buffalo which still roam the island today.
 
Bison
The Polar Bear / The Kodiak Bear

Because these two bears tip the scale at about the same weight, upwards of 1500-pounds, they have been included together. Polar bears are found in the Arctic Circle where they frolic in the ice cold waters of the Arctic Sea. Kodiak Bears, similar to a grizzly only larger, are found on Kodiak and the surrounding islands in Southeast Alaska.
 
The Kodiak Bear
Trying to observe either of these bears in their natural habitat is not recommended as they are carnivorous and don’t recognize the difference between their usual prey and a person. There is a good chance tracking them down might turn someone into a meal of human tar-tar.

Just south of the Arctic in the Churchill area, as summer comes to an end, polar bears patiently wait for the Hudson Bay to refreeze so they can go on seal hunting expeditions. This usually occurs over a six-week period and sightings are guaranteed.

The Maryland Zoo, the Detroit Zoo, and several others scattered about the U.S. have polar bears in captivity, but they have pens and areas specifically designed to keep them cold and comfortable.

On Kodiak Island, wilderness guides take visitors on bear sighting expeditions. It’s never recommended for anyone to attempt this on their own. The guides know where to take people and they are fully cognizant of keeping safe distances.
 
The Polar Bear / The Kodiak Bear
Whales

Since whales are mammals it would be remiss to not include them. Right whales, or black whales, are the largest in North America weighing in at as much as 298,000 pounds. Each teste weighs 1,157 pounds.

From December through March right whales can be spotted off of Florida’s Atlantic coast. Scientist’s estimate there are only 450 of these giant whales in existence and between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral is the best place in the U.S. to see them. Right whales have also been spotted around Cape Cod but they are generally further out and require a boat to get within a safe distance of them. Other types of whales can be spotted closer to shore in Cape Cod but right whales prefer keeping their distance.
 
Whales
Wild Horses

Just like bison, wild horses were at one time plentiful but their numbers have been reduced over time. Domestication and breeding have significantly decreased the numbers still living in the wild. North American wild horses are actually the descendants of domesticated horses brought to North America by early Spanish explorers. The horses were either set loose or escaped and because they had no natural predators their numbers quickly grew. Many of them were rounded up and tamed by early settlers for transportation and farm work, but these days they are left alone since purchasing them from breeding farms is so much easier than swinging a lasso in a wide-open prairie.
 
Beautiful Wild Horses On The Perfect Field.
By all estimates, there are roughly 60,000 free-roaming horses between Canada and the U.S., and just like other large North America animals, you have to know where to find them. Some of the best places to observe them in the wild are, The Virginia Range, Nevada, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in South Dakota, the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming and Montana, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Assateague Island in Virginia and Maryland, and Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.

There are other areas in which to find them, such as Nevada, but the chances of running across a wild herd are much better by going to where the largest consolidations of them are roaming.
 
Wild Horses
There isn’t much that’s able to compare to the magnitude of observing wild animals living the way nature intended. The beauty is three-fold when they are able to display their strength and gracefulness in an undisturbed environment where they are fully protected from the recklessness of humankind.
 

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