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Life in the Grasslands

The United States’s Grasslands are an ecological marvel. Situated East of the Rocky Mountains, it was a tropical jungle one hundred million years ago. Gradually, the climate began to change, partly because the Rockies began rising out of the earth’s crust. Nowadays, the Grasslands are one of the driest areas of the United States, with only 10 to 20 inches of rain per year. It is a land of countless species of grasses, each adapted perfectly to the dry climate. Here, not many trees can survive, and only certain kinds of animals live in a fragile harmony.
Bisons (estimated 60 millions until the 1800s) have roamed in the Grasslands for millions of years, and Native Americans lived with and around them, following their migrations and hunting them for their meat, hides and bones. When colonisation happened, though, men began hunting bisons massively, as a sport, and even as a way to force Native Americans to abandon their original way of life. Only 300 bisons were left in in the United States by 1890. Though their population starts to regrow (mainly in National Parks and Refuges), it will never be as big as before. Pronghorns live in harmony with bisons : they eat the bottom of the grass while the latter only eat the top. Coyotes also live close to pronghorns. They don’t try to hunt them (pronghorns are the fastest animals in North America, running at 60 miles an hour), but use them as a diversion, in order to approach and attack prairie dogs unnoticed. Prairie dogs are also very important in this ecosystem (and so cute you could look at them for hours!). Not only do they renew the soil by digging their caves in their huge “prairie dog towns”, but they are also the main pray for predators like coyotes, badgers, raptors or ferrets. In National Parks, their population is big enough, but outside, in “the real world”, cities, roads and intensive agriculture have almost lead to their extinction. This led to the almost extinction of the black-footed ferret, whose diet is comprised of 95% prairie dog, and who lives in abandoned prairie dog holes. Fortunately, National Parks try to protect these fragile ecosystems.
These pictures were taken in Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park.

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2 thoughts on “Life in the Grasslands

  1. I honeymooned in this area in 2015, and returned last year (although not to Custer State Park on the more recent trip). It’s one of my favorite places on earth (thus far) and you’ve captured its denizens quite well!

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