Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stay Clear of the Stampeding Porcupines

I was reading an article in my morning printed Toronto Star about the US Republicans' somewhat dubiously conducted attempt to get drilling permitted in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the article included the following passage:
Ottawa has argued drilling would affect the migrating Caribou, porcupine herds, and the centuries-old way of life of the Gwitchin First Nation in the Yukon
Down here in the south porcupines live a more solitary lifestyle than up north - I decided it was the cold that caused them to band together in herds, and I tried to imagine the sight of porcupines as far as I could see crossing the tundra, and the Gwitchin people of course killing exactly as many of them needed to supply exactly the food they need, the vital porcupine fat for their oil lamps, and of course the skins for their porcupine leather outfits, while running a tiny industry in porcupine quill novelties for sale in craft stores here in Ontario. In fact I almost expect to see some excellent German nature documentaries on these subjects, including the courage of the people in facing the danger of possibly triggering a porcupine stampede, something that strikes me as having significant danger for anyone nearby, as well as for the porcupines. Or maybe I am over-interpreting 'herd', and in fact the porcupine has been domesticated by the remarkable Gwitchin.

Of course the truth is more prosaic. The Star fact-checkers missed this one (hmmm I wonder if the Star does use fact-checkers). There is a herd (one, so far as I know) that is generally referred to as the Porcupine Caribou Herd and you can read about it at multiple sites, like this one, which any Google search on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or for that matter on caribou and porcupine, would bring your own personal fact-checker.

The article online has been fixed as follows (it's a Star link so no guarantees from me)
Ottawa has argued drilling would threaten the migratory Porcupine caribou herds, and the centuries-old way of life of the Gwitchin First Nation in the Yukon.
So it is not yet quite fixed though at least I can breathe more easily.

The best part of this is that the error made it to the Star's allied free morning newspaper, Metro, which was being read by pretty well everyone I saw on our subway train and buses as I was making my way ta and from my eye surgeon. I wonder what all those people were picturing. At least they were paying a reasonable price for the Guardian-Independent-quality accuracy the Star seems to aspire to.

Someone suggested a nice image related to the idea of the domestication of porcupines - porcupine dogs, the analogue of sheep dogs. I imagine breeding would produce something like a Border Collie but with a specially hardened snout for resisting the quills as they harry the porcupines.


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