Reindeer × Cow

Rangifer tarandus × Bos taurus

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

     
Baron Jean-Dominique Larrey
Baron Larrey
(1766-1842)

Reindeer
Reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus)

Baron Jean-Dominique Larrey (1766-1842) was a French surgeon in Napoleon's army and an important innovator in battlefield medicine. Early in his career he served as ship’s surgeon aboard the frigate La Vigilante and stayed for a time at Croc Harbour on the east coast of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. Their ship had been sent to this remote locale with the mission of assisting in the protection of the French cod fishery. When the crew landed, they built a small cabin community there, which they used as a base. In his Mémoires de chirurgie militaire et campagnes Larrey (1812, p. 30) recalls various events witnessed there. Among other things, he writes that “One sees also in this country a kind of

large deer called caribou. It differs from an ordinary deer only in that it is larger, and in that its rack is sheathed in tan fuzzy hair. The caribou sometimes came near the cabins. During the night, one of them broke into our sheepfold, where we had a cow that became pregnant by him. She would, without doubt, have produced a hybrid, but I was unable to verify this fact because she was taken back to Brest. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.]

Given the circumstances, it seems clear that the cow in question, which must have been brought along to provide milk at this remote outpost, would not have had access to, and could not have been impregnated by, a bull.

Certain authors (e.g., Morton 1847a) mistakenly say that Larrey mentions a cross between an elk (Cervus elaphus) and a cow, but Larrey uses the word caribou, which, of course, is just another name for reindeer.

Moreover, reindeer are native to Newfoundland, whereas elk are not. According to Wikipedia, moose (Alces alces) were not introduced into Newfoundland until 1878, and even today are not found at the north end of the Great Northern Peninsula (the location of Croc Harbour).

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Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).


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