Have A Good Rest Before Christmas
iPhoneOgraphy – 19 Dec 2016 (Day 354/366)
The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution, native to Arctic, Subarctic, tundra, boreal and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. This includes both sedentary and migratory populations.
While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and at least one has already become extinct. For this reason, it is considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN.
Reindeer vary considerably in colour and size. Both sexes can grow antlers annually, although the proportion of females that grow antlers varies greatly between population and season. Antlers are typically larger on males.
Hunting of wild reindeer and herding of semi-domesticated reindeer (for meat, hides, antlers, milk and transportation) are important to several Arctic and Subarctic peoples. In Lapland, reindeer pull pulks. Reindeer are well known due to Santa Claus’ sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer in Christmas folklore.
The name Rangifer, which Carl Linnaeus chose for the reindeer genus, was used by Albertus Magnus in his De animalibus, fol. Liber 22, Cap. 268: “Dicitur Rangyfer quasi ramifer”. This word may go back to a Saami word raingo. For the origin of the word tarandus, which Linnaeus chose as the specific epithet, he made reference to Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Quadrupedum omnium bisulcorum historia fol. 859–863, Cap. 30: De Tarando (1621). However, Aldrovandi – and before him Konrad Gesner – thought that rangifer and tarandus were two separate animals. In any case, the tarandos name goes back to Aristotle and Theophrastus.
Because of its importance to many cultures, Rangifer tarandus and some of its subspecies have names in many languages. The name rein (-deer) is of Norse origin (Old Norse hreinn, which again goes back to Proto-Germanic *hrainaz and Proto-Indo-European *kroinos meaning “horned animal”). In the Uralic languages, Sami *poatsoj (in Northern Sami boazu, in Lule Sami boatsoj, in Pite Sami båtsoj, in Southern Sami bovtse, in Inari Sami puásui), Meadow Mari pücö and Udmurt pudžej, all referring to domesticated reindeer, go back to *pocaw, an Iranian loan word deriving from Proto-Indo-European *peḱu-, meaning “cattle”. The Finnish name poro may also stem from the same.
The word deer was originally broader in meaning, but became more specific over time. In Middle English, der (Old English dēor) meant a wild animal of any kind. This was in contrast to cattle, which then meant any sort of domestic livestock that was easy to collect and remove from the land, from the idea of personal-property ownership (rather than real estate property) and related to modern chattel (property) and capital. Cognates of Old English dēor in other dead Germanic languages have the general sense of animal, such as Old High German tior, Old Norse djúror dýr, Gothic dius, Old Saxon dier, and Old Frisian diar.
The name caribou comes, through French, from Mi’kmaq qalipu, meaning “snow shoveler”, referring to its habit of pawing through the snow for food. In Inuktitut, spoken in eastern Arctic North America, the caribou is known by the name tuktu.
Current classifications of Rangifer tarandus, either with prevailing] taxonomy on subspecies, designations based on ecotypes, and natural population groupings, fail to capture “the variability of caribou across their range in Canada” needed for effective species conservation and management. “Across the range of a species, individuals may display considerable morphological, genetic, and behavioural variability reflective of both plasticity and adaptation to local environments.” COSEWIC developed Designated Unit (DU) attribution to add to classifications already in use.
The species taxonomic name Rangifer tarandus was defined by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The subspecies taxonomic name, Rangifer tarandus caribou was defined by Gmelin in 1788.
Based on Banfield’s often-cited A Revision of the Reindeer and Caribou, Genus Rangifer (1961), R. t. caboti (Labrador caribou), R. t. osborni (Osborn’s caribou – from British Columbia) and R. t. terraenovae (Newfoundland caribou) were considered invalid and included in R. t. caribou.
Some recent authorities have considered them all valid, even suggesting that they are quite distinct. In their book entitled Mammal Species of the World, American zoologist Don E. Wilson and DeeAnn Reeder agree with Valerius Geist, specialist on large North American mammals, that this range actually includes several subspecies.
Geist (2007) argued that the “true woodland caribou, the uniformly dark, small-maned type with the frontally emphasized, flat-beamed antlers”, which is “scattered thinly along the southern rim of North American caribou distribution” has been incorrectly classified. He affirms that “true woodland caribou is very rare, in very great difficulties and requires the most urgent of attention.”
In 2005, an analysis of mtDNA found differences between the caribou from Newfoundland, Labrador, south-western Canada and south-eastern Canada, but maintained all in R. t caribou.
Mallory and Hillis argued that, “Although the taxonomic designations reflect evolutionary events, they do not appear to reflect current ecological conditions. In numerous instances, populations of the same subspecies have evolved different demographic and behavioural adaptations, while populations from separate subspecies have evolved similar demographic and behavioural patterns… “Understanding ecotype in relation to existing ecological constraints and releases may be more important than the taxonomic relationships between populations.”
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