The Future of Hoofed Mammals

The number of reindeer and caribou will in all likelihood continue to fluctuate dramatically from year to year with seasonal variations, local climatic conditions, and development projects. The outlook for maintaining traditional reindeer husbandry in northern Russia remains precariously dependent upon the perpetuation of a delicate balancing act weighing national economics and ecological preservation with the social rights and responsibilities of the thirteen aboriginal peoples presently engaged in the traditional occupation. For the Gwi'chin of northwestern Canada—as for the Evenk of northeastern Siberia— although they no longer depend solely on caribou for sustenance, their traditional way of life and cultural identity are integrally tied to the ecology of Rangifer herding. The prospect of new oil and mineral exploration and pipeline construction in the Arctic may threaten the annual migration route of the Porcupine River caribou herd in the Northwest Territories, a possibility that the Gwi'chin are lobbying against. Scandinavian reindeer herds exposed to radiation from Chernobyl will probably remain tainted by high levels of radioactivity for years to come. New initiatives in international scientific and governmental cooperation seek to integrate indigenous, private, and governmental methods of herd management for optimum sustainability throughout the circumpolar north.

In 1997, Dolly, the first cloned sheep, was created in the laboratory by substituting the genetic material of one sheep's egg cell nucleus for that of another, followed by implantation in the uterus of a surrogate mother. With the genomic revolution underway, the idea that extinct species might be cloned for future reintroduction is currently the object of much speculation. However, the improbability of even the most well preserved ancient DNA remaining viable makes the challenge of reviving extinct species far more problematic than that of cloning living animals. Russian and native northern scientists are engaged in attempts to clone a live mammoth using genetic material taken from Dima, a frozen baby mammoth unearthed in northern Yakutia, and other Siberian fossil deposits found in remote areas of the Taimyr Peninsula, Wrangel Island, and the Kolyma River basin. They hope to attain a live birth by stripping an elephant egg of its genetic material, replacing it with mammoth DNA, and implanting the egg into a female elephant. If this process should ever become feasible, their plans call for the resulting animals to be kept in a zoological park and eventually allowed to roam free in herds grazing on the steppes, filling the approximate ecological niche of the ancient megafauna. Based in part on the ecological model of the former bison cultures in the American West, these apparently quixotic efforts to restore the Pleistocene "big hairies" in Siberia are aimed initially at creating a "Jurassic Park" style tourist attraction, and ultimately at revitalizing the indigenous hunting cultures of the tundra. However, most Western scientists still firmly believe that the deterioration and fragmentation of ancient genetic material, along with many other formidable obstacles, render cloning the mammoth a distant, farfetched dream at best, and in all likelihood an outright impossibility.

The history of human introduction of exotic ungulate species to new environments is rife with cautionary lessons. Many imported animals have subsequently adapted all too well to their adopted ecosystems, destroying habitats and driving out endemic species. Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) imported to the mountain ranges of Washington's Olympic Peninsula during the 1920s were so successful at colonizing the territory that efforts are now being made to eradicate them from Olympic National Park. Barbary sheep native to North Africa were introduced to New Mexico during the 1950s in the hope of providing big game animals to serve as prey for sport and trophy hunters. They soon decimated the local plant life and threatened to spread parasites to other hoofed mammals, including ranchers' domestic livestock and the endemic Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Laycock, 1966). However, ungulate importations do not always lead to failure or ecological disaster. Today, for example, imported musk oxen are thriving at an experimental station run by the University of Alaska in Fairbanks; they may someday be released into the wild.

Domesticated livestock coexisting with human society is subject to culturally varied modes of exploitation and protection. Among Hindus in India, according to religious custom cows are sacred and protected from slaughter. Throughout the world, observant Muslims and orthodox Jews adhere to religious taboos banning the consumption of pork, while among indigenous peoples of New Guinea pigs are important forms of wealth and signs of prestige, conferring socioeconomic status on their owners. The industrial revolution wrought profound ecological and socioeconomic changes in nineteenth-century England and Scotland with the large-scale enclosure of formerly common lands for private sheep pasturage, to supply wool for rapidly expanding textile production. The displacement of peasants and rural smallholders from crop land to make way for livestock gave rise to the mournful popular saying that "sheep eat men." Strategies of rural development and production comparable to the enclosure movement in method if not in scope were applied to colonial India by British administrators, with long-range ecological and socioeconomic consequences that are still being felt at the turn of the twenty-first century.

New dangers associated with growing human dependence on hoofed mammals, including threats to human and animal health, continue to arise. During the 1990s, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (popularly known as mad cow disease) appeared in the United Kingdom, evidently as a result of the cost-cutting practice of cannibalistic feeding. This modern cattle plague is now threatening the European mainland and could soon appear on other continents. In 2001 an outbreak of contagious hoof-and-mouth disease necessi tated the massive extermination of sheep in England and Scotland to halt the spread of the epidemic, a financially ruinous development for farmers and shepherds.

The nutritional benefits of the additional protein supplied by a diet rich in beef products may be offset in the long run by the tremendous resource expenditures needed to keep pace with the consumption patterns of a rapidly expanding global population. With millions of people—especially in the industrialized West—relying on cattle for meat and milk, more and more grassy rangelands will be required to raise more and more animals. The pressure for clear-cutting rain forests to make room for grazing acreage intensifies as a hungry population continues to increase in numbers. The huge amounts of land and biomass required for animal fodder could be far more efficiently utilized to raise soybeans and other much less energy-intensive crops. Other environmental side effects of ungulate overbreed-ing, such as a massive increase in bovine methane gases with the potential to significantly accelerate atmospheric global warming, are already ensuing. In the age of globalization and fast food, the ecological pressure exerted on the earth by the voracious human need for grasslands to sustain large herds of hoofed mammals is only likely to increase.

See also: Alien Species, Introduction of; Artiodactyls; Coevolution; Cultural Survival, Revival, and Preservation; Extinctions, Direct Causes of; Herbivory; Land Use; Lichens; Mammalia; Mass Extinction; Order Uranotheria; Subsistence Bibliography

American Museum of Natural History, "BioBulletin: What Killed the Mammoths?" (accessed January 6, 2002); Circumpolar Ph.D. Network in Arctic Environmental Studies. (accessed August 8, 2002); Diamond, Jared. 1999. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W. W. Norton; Eldredge, Niles. 1998. Life in the Bal ance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Isenberg, Andrew C. 2000. The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920. Studies in Environment and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Krech, Shephard III. 2000. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York: W. W. Norton; Laycock, George. 1966. The Alien Animals: The Story of Imported Wildlife. Garden City, NY: Natural History; Martin, Calvin. 1987. The American Indian and the Problem of History. New York: Oxford University Press; Olson, Dean F. 1969. Alaska Reindeer Herdsmen: A Study of Native Management in Transition. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research; Stephens, Sharon. 1987. "Lapp Life after Chernobyl." Natural History 12: 32-41; Steward, Julian. 1955. Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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