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William Temple Hornaday - Iowan who helped save U.S. buffalo from extinction

posted on November 24, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Saving things was a part of William Temple Hornaday's everyday life. He was a taxidermist by trade. And as such, he travelled the globe to observe wildlife in its natural habitat. This experience led him to become one of America's first conservationists. He was collecting buffalo for an exhibit and was shocked to discover there were only a few hundred bison left. He joined forces with his friend, Senator John F. Lacey, and together, they influenced the nation to stop the extinction of that species. 

Hornaday was also responsible for founding the National Zoo, and he influenced how animals (alive and dead) were displayed - presenting them in a natural-looking setting. Many of his displays are still in place at the Smithsonian. And, the original bison he collected have been restored in a museum on the prairie.(See the links, below.) 

Biography of WilliamTemple Hornaday

In 1854, William Temple Hornaday was born in Plainfield, Illinois.  At the age of three, he and his family moved to the Eddyville, Iowa area along the Des Moines River. Growing up in central Iowa and attending and graduating from Iowa State College in Ames, his interest in taxidermy began a lifelong relationship with the wildlife of the world. In his early 20's, he travelled the world collecting wildlife specimens for display. 

At the age of 29 he was named chief taxidermist of the Smithsonian Institution where he revolutionized the way animals were mounted for exhibition by incorporating environmental displays that posed the animals in life-like poses in their natural habitat. 

Upon attempting to acquire representative examples of the North American buffalo in1886 he was shocked to find that the once great herds of "bison americanus" had dwindled from an estimated 6 million in 1868 to less than a thousand only twenty years later.

This episode was the spark for his book,"Forty Years' War for Wildlife" in which he actively sought to preserve the wildlife of North America, beginning with the buffalo. In 1898 he published "The Destruction of our Birds and Mammals," in the NY Zoological Society's Second Annual Report. 

In 1899, at the age of 35, Hornaday was named director of the Bronx Zoo where he spent the next 3 decades setting the standard for the design of Zoological Parks that is reflected even today.  At the age of 79, shortly before his death, one of his last and defining acts was a letter to Franklin D.Roosevelt continuing his appeal to "save the remnant of wildlife in the United States."   

Tags: buffalo conservation Dayton Duncan Eddyville history Iowa national parks Oskaloosa parks roads travel Yellowstone Yosemite