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Animals Away from Home

Yisrael Rutman

Bringing an animal from its natural habitat or home to somewhere else is called “introducing” it to that new place

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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L et us introduce you to a new concept: You know what an introduction is — “Let me introduce you to Shmerel.” But there’s another kind of introduction in which Shmerel is not a person, but an animal. Shmerel the Camel, let’s say. But that doesn’t mean you say “hi” and shake the camel’s hoof. We don’t advise it. Bringing an animal from its natural habitat or home to somewhere else is called “introducing” it to that new place. Now, to meet Shmerel…

Go West, Young Camel!

When Americans were moving westward in the 1800s, they traveled mostly in wagons pulled by horses or mules. Once in a while, though, you might have spotted a camel answering the famous call, “Go west, young man!” In fact, in 1855, the US government introduced 75 camels into the country to help transport equipment for the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad and supplies for military outposts in the west. The man behind this idea was Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. 

Like another idea Davis had — the secession of the Confederacy (aka the South), of which he was president until it surrendered — the camels did not last. It seems camels lost out to the competition. At that time, mules were big business, and mule owners lobbied Congress to prevent more camels from being imported or used in government programs. The mules won. Gradually, the unemployed camels were sold to zoos and circuses, while others simply disappeared into the wilderness.

The First Horses

You probably think horses are beautiful animals and fun to pet, fun to ride. But when they first arrived in the Americas, people had a very different reaction. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquerors terrorized the local Inca and Axtec empires with soldiers on horseback. The Aztecs and Incas had never seen horses before, had never even heard of such beasts. 

The mounted, armored soldiers looked to them like some fearsome monster. They panicked and fled, making it possible for a small army of Spaniards to take over the great cities of an empire. Horses continued to be used in war — either in special horseback combat units called cavalry or to pull supply wagons and cannons — until World War II, when tanks, trucks, and armored cars made war horses obsolete.

Myth No. 11

Until recently, everyone was taught that the Spanish conquerors were the ones who first brought horses to the Americas. But lately an idea has popped up (or rather, been dug up by archeologists) that horses roamed America long before that. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in charge of the use of federal lands for grazing and other purposes, disagrees. The BLM calls it “Myth No. 11” about American land. Even if the old bones of horses from a distant past are dated accurately, they went extinct at some point and have no connection to the horses of modern times, which arrived after the United States was founded.

Who cares when horses got here? Horse lovers, that’s who. Because if they can prove that horses were always here and aren’t latecomers, then the wild horses out west would have the status of native animals. That would give them equal rights along with domesticated cattle to the grazing pastures and watering places. The ranchers are against it, because it would mean less land and water for their livestock. It’s an especially big issue out west, where there have been droughts lately and water is scarce. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 681)

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