The Hare Minimum: Out with the Old, In with the Gnu   Leave a comment

The average Gnu (Connochaetes spp.) – pronounced ‘knew’ (or if you’re really fancy, ‘gah-new’) – is not native to North America While they can be found at local zoos (although probably not riding the Carousel, as it makes them dizzy), the species is just one of the larger family of Antelope, which includes the Springbok; the Blackbuck; gazelles of many different types; and as a far-distant cousin, the Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), who we discovered last week are native to North America and Canada, as part of the on-going confusion between, and possibly among, goats and sheep. Oddly enough, the native Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) isn’t an antelope at all but the last of an entire group that become extinct thousands of years ago. Which only further complicates the goat-sheep-antelope confusion now that the pronghorns, until recently happy with their place in the world, got word and are starting to ask questions.

Wildebeest alert WIKI

“Go ahead, ask me ‘What’s GNU’. Or ‘Have you HERD the GNUs?’. How about ‘Happy GNU Year’. Like I’ve NEVER heard those before.”

As ungulates go (and they go very fast, some of them are the worlds fastest runners), North America isn’t well represented. Generally meaning ‘hoofed animals’, the ungulate is just about any mammal that stands on the hard, thick growths at the end of their toes. Something like an old man who hasn’t cut his nails in a few years. The animals do, actually, stand on their toes their entire lives and while this hasn’t given them much of an advantage in ballet, it does make them masters of moving over rough, uneven terrain and allows for better grasp and traction on surfaces that animals with padded feet – cats, dogs, bears and humans among others – often try to avoid or protect our soft foot-soles. Very old animals, as a group, ungulates were probably one of the first successful mammals to spread throughout the world, at some point naturally occurring in every environment except Antarctica. While most ungulates in North America today originated elsewhere, the camel (‎Camelidae) and horse (Equidae) families can be traced back to America. Although eventually both left, settling in the Middle East and Mongolia, many generations later they were brought back to their original home by humans.

What’s most ironic, for those who follow the astrological calender – that connects astronomical star positions and ancient cultural beliefs into various animals associated with each year – 2015 is the year of the Ram (no definition is made if this ram is a sheep, or a goat, so no one can call favorites); and 2016 is the year of the Monkey, which in no way is nor ever has been a native North American species. So the title of this post maybe should have been in with the Monkey, and Out with the Gnu. But that makes no sense.

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