National Geographic : 1919 Dec
THE CAMEL OF THE FROZEN DESERT BY CARL J. LOMEN With Photographs by Lomen Brothers, Nome, Alaska WHEN the circus comes to town and the steam calliope, calling with its raucous but seductive voice to old and young alike, allures the crowds to gaze in wonder at the grand parade, it is the camels and elephants that sweep the youngsters along crowded' pavements in a wave of deepest interest. Not even Sheba's queen, enthroned in state upon her regal car which milk-white horses draw, and dressed in jeweled robes that scintillate with rainbow beams, can prevent the tan-cheeked, barefoot boy or his urban counterpart from serving as an escort for those awkward beasts whose very shuffling tread bespeaks a haughty dignity. Strong iron bars imprison Leo and his tawny mate, but the camels can be studied at first hand. What matters it that somewhere be neath the Syrian sun or beside the storied walls of far Peking the philosophic ship of the sandy desert calmly chews his cud unnoticed by the passing throng, or that in tropical Ceylon or India the plodding pachyderm belongs to the Labor Union rather than to the Players' Club? The commonplace has only to be transported to another clime to make it interesting. THE ALASKAN'S OX, SHEEP, AND HORSE IN ONE Not less interesting than the camel of the Sahara or the Gobi is the reindeer, the camel of the frozen desert in Amer ica's farthest north. The average Amer ican probably considers the reindeer only as the picturesque feature in an other wise featureless Arctic landscape, or as the draft animal for a fur-clad foreigner with high cheek-bones and matted hair. But to Alaskans, Eskimos and whites alike, reindeer are today what lowing kine are to the dairy-farmers of Holland, humble sheep to the Australian wool raiser, or bulky shorthorns to the Texas cowman-utility untinctured with ro mance. Within a single generation," Cupid" and "Vixen" and "Comet" and "Prancer," those semi-mythological companions of ruddy Saint Nick which spring into action with the very first remembered syllables of the famous Christmas poem, have become the staple live stock of the Far Northwest of the American conti nent. Santa Claus may use a motor truck or even an airplane in making his city deliveries, but in Alaska the reindeer is coming into its own. FIRST REINDEER IMPORTED 27 YEARS AGO In Europe and Asia the reindeer was domesticated in prehistoric times. Not so in America, where this species of the deer family, the Cervidce, were known as caribou, and are still so known, to dis tinguish them from the domesticated and imported animal. The first importation, consisting of only 162 reindeer, was landed at Teller, Alaska, on Independence Day, 1892.* During that year and the decade follow ing, 1,118 more were imported from Si beria and landed on the shores of Port Clarence Bay. The reindeer imported from Norway in 1898 were all draft ani mals, steers, and are now extinct. From the outset the deer thrived, and as the number increased, other herds were formed from the mother herd at Teller. Roaming the frozen wastes north and south, from Point Barrow to the Alaskan Peninsula, there are today more than a hundred herds, aggregating about 16o,ooo deer. It is estimated that during this period more than Ioo,ooo have been killed for food and skins; so that in less than thirty years the increase has been more than two hundred fold. Although the Alaskan reindeer indus try is still in its infancy, it is rapidly be coming firmly established. *See "Reindeer in Alaska,"by Gilbert Grosve nor, in THE GEOGRAPHIC for April, 1903.