Monday, January 2, 2012

Of Moose and Men - final edits

Of Moose and Men- final edits.
It's the second day of the New Year and a spectacular sunrise to greet us. Also the day that I have completed my final edit of the new book Of Moose and Men. The subtitle has been chosen and appears as A Wildlife Vet’s Pursuit of the World’s Largest Deer. I’ve been working off an “advanced reading copy” which lacks the colour plates and an index, but they will come, along with appropriate quotes and so on. I can share a couple of things. The first is my opening quote, that comes from a speech made by Sit James Barrie at the St. Andrews University convocation in 1922. He said:
“It is not real work unless you would rather be doing something else.”
The second is some of the material about the taming, not quite domestication, of moose through the ages. This comes near the end of the book after I have discussed many of my own experiences with them, and a bunch of other stuff about their lives, their antlers (and the role of these in moose sex) and the carnage they cause on the roads. The first written records of tamed moose in North America come from the early 1600s when French priests reported that there were moose in captivity in New France, but it seems highly likely that Aboriginal people had tamed them long before that because those same priests and later European explorers commented on how easy moose were to train, and many authors and raconteurs mention how remarkably tame a moose can become.
This photo, by Ernest Brown, will be in the book courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta. It is simply titled “Moose in harness.” Unfortunately the photographer provided only a brief caption to the image: “Moose Yoked.” No other information about the location or history of this photo has been found. In 1770 Samuel Hearne, who was the first European to reach the Arctic Ocean by a mainland route across North America, noted that moose “are also the easiest to tame and domesticate of any of the deer kind.” He went further in describing the details. “I have repeatedly seen them at Churchill as tame as sheep, and even more so; for they would follow their keeper any distance from home, and at his call return with him, without the least trouble, or even offering to deviate from the path.” The deviation, or lack of it, is not constant. In 1910 a man named D.E. Lantz, who worked for the U.S. Biological Survey, gave a pithy account of this when he wrote the following about a pair of moose that had been trained to pull a buggy, “which they did with great steadiness and swiftness, subject, however, to the inconvenience that, when they once took it into their heads to cool themselves in a neighbouring river or lake, no effort could prevent them.” Also in 1910, author, explorer, and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton wrote that that moose were “much more tractable and valuable than reindeer . . . they are docile, easily trained, exceedingly swift, and, being natural trotters, are well suited for light travel.” There are several even earlier accounts of tamed moose, especially ones that were shipped to Europe, to men like England’s King George III and to dukes who could no doubt afford the considerable costs involved. Many of these animals, however, died soon after arrival or even while on board ship. The year 1770 crops up again in this context because the first bull moose to make it alive to England was sent that year by Guy Carleton, Governor General of Canada, to the Second Duke of Richmond, who later imported two more. The duke must have acted quickly after the animal arrived in order to engage an artist, because that first one is the subject of a work, also dated 1770, by one of the great animal painters of all time: George Stubbs, best known for his wonderful pictures of horses.
The photo of this famous painting, which will appear in the colour section of the book, was kindly shared by the folks at the The Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, my alma mater. The animal had only his first set of antlers, and those at bottom left were included to show what a mature set would look like. © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2011 There are fewer records or claims of moose being used as saddle animals and some of these may be more fancy than fact. Among others these accounts include descriptions of attempts to use moose for postal delivery and as cavalry mounts in Sweden. An urban myth has it that either King Karl XI of Sweden, or his successor Karl XII, even went so far as to invade Russia with moose-mounted hussars in the late 17th or very early 18th century. This story seemed to be too good to be true and the dangers of the Internet soon showed themselves as some entries appeared to confirm it, while others made no mention. I did some digging and received this email from my colleague and friend Dr. Bengt Roken.
There is no documentation to be found in the historic literature about moose used by the ancient military. Not even their use for postal deliveries is true. During the 19th century a number of moose calves were reared and got tame and some of them could pull a sledge or carry a rider. One farmer, Darelli, published his experiences with a pair of hand-reared moose and speculated about the possible use of trained moose as superior to horses in the cavalry. From his speculations most of the tales about moose cavalries have evolved.
Hope these tidbits tickle your fancy.

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