Thursday, September 18, 2008

Balto, Prairie Wolves, and Wolves in Alaska

The statue of Balto in Central Park

And in case you've forgotten any part of Balto's story, here is what The Central Park website has to say about him and his statue.

"The glowing bronze of this statue on a rock outcropping near the East Drive at 67th Street reflects the loving pats of countless children and adults who recall the story of a heroic dog. In January 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska experienced an outbreak of diphtheria. At that time, Nome had a population of 1,429 people and there was only enough antitoxin serum in distant Anchorage to treat about 300 people exposed to the disease. A train line did run over 325 miles from Anchorage to Nenana, the station closest to Nome, but Nome was icebound seven months out of the year. Alaska’s two open-cockpit planes were not safe in the frigid and windy weather.

A relay of mushers and their dog-sled teams was the only way to deliver the fur-wrapped twenty-pound package of serum to the ailing community 674 miles from Nenana. The route followed the old Iditarod Trail used by mail drivers from Anchorage to Nome (now the route of the dog-sled championships). The 20 teams of over 200 dogs covered the frozen terrain at about six miles per hour, in blizzard conditions with temperatures of 50 degrees below zero. An international audience listened over their radios and read in their newspapers of the race to Nome. The last musher, Gunnar Kasson, and his team lead by Balto, a black and white Alaskan malamute, raced over the frozen tundra in only five days and seven hours – a world record time. Within days after the arrival of the serum, the epidemic, which had claimed five lives, was over.

Gunnar Kasson later described the incredible trip to reporters: "I couldn't see the trail. Many times I couldn't even see my dogs, so blinding was the gale. I gave Balto, my lead dog, his head and trusted him. He never once faltered. It was Balto who led the way. The credit is his." Balto survived the journey, and toured the United States with the rest of the dog team. On December 17, 1925, 10 months after his arrival in Nome, Balto was present as this bronze statue was unveiled in Central Park. Balto died in 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio, where his stuffed body is on display at Cleveland’s Natural History Museum.

Private donations collected under the auspices of the Municipal Arts Society paid most of the cost of this sculpture. Brooklyn-born sculptor Frederick George Richard Roth (1872-1944) received the commission for the statue, which was awarded the 1925 Speyer Prize by the National Academy of Design.

A low-relief plaque shows the dogsled team braving the blizzard and bears an inscription dedicating the statue to all of the sled dogs that helped save lives of so many people. From the moment of its unveiling, the sculpture has been a favorite of young park visitors, many of whom come from far and wide to sit astride the dog hero celebrated in several books as well as in Steven Spielberg’s animated film, Balto (1995).

The inscription commemorating Balto the Dog reads:

"Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dog that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice across treacherous waters through arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925. "

Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence.

Was Balto half wolf? His owner would only go so far as to say he was a mongrel.

This is the real Balto. Look at those eyes. They spark with focus. Look at the set of his head.

The dispute lingers on-- was Balto a wolf dog? Does every Husky have much closer wolf ancestors than the wolf ancestors of all dogs as some insist? Was it anti-wolf prejudice that kept the admission of what "mongrel" entailed to be made public? Would Balto have suddenly seemed untrustworthy in some eyes?

Or would what was done to wolves regularly and still seems to be yet again undertaken have become just too unpalatable with such an admission?

A Central Park birding update and wolf status report from longtime hawk watcher and blog contributor Katherine Herzog, got me to thinking ...

Dear Donna,

The area in Central Park called the Maintenance Meadow was amazing at 3:30pm on Saturday. Chats, Warblers, and our ever present young male Wild Turkey (I think it's a male because of a small wattle under his chin that's blue and red)!

The Turkey is becoming very used to human presence which is not a good thing this close to Thanksgiving. I really worry about him as some people are feeding him bird seed which makes him come within a few feet of them.

Some idiot let his Lab off the leash to attack the Turkey--who took to a high branch in a nearby tree. I had a few well-chosen words for the Lab owner. Humans are sometimes the most pathetic species on the planet.

And then there's Sarah Palin who has lobbied and won the right of "hunters" to shoot Wolves and Bears from small aircraft when the animals are unable to run and escape in deep snow.

You'd think dog owners and other animal rights people would be furious. Wolves after all are the ancestors of dogs! And she is even opposing the Bush Administration's call to put Polar Bears on the endangered species list because they might impede the more oil/gas exploration in wildlife reserves and federal lands.

Her main financier for this brutal and obscene killing is the infamous Safari Club International which goes to Africa to kill all sorts of highly endangered animals including elephants... which are lured to trust people who provide them with food and them shoot them at point blank range to transform these ancient, magnificent creatures into foot stools and umbrella stands. Despicable.

All the best,


Remember Cheryl Cavert's photo of Jay the Red-tail on the statues along the River? I asked Cheryl about the marvelous statues and just which creatures were being depicted under Jay's trusty talons. Wolves? Dogs?
She responded--

Following is some information off the website that tells a little about the bronze monuments along the Arkansas River in Tulsa."NatureWorks, Inc., located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a nonprofit organization assisting in the development and conservation of wildlife preserves, wildlife habitats, and educational opportunities for adults and children on the values of sharing our homeland with wildlife.

NatureWorks holds a Wildlife Art Show and Sale annually, featuring many of the finest wildlife painters, sculptors, and carvers from all over the nation.Annually, the NatureWorks Monuments Program has made it possible for NatureWorks to donate a heroic sized, realistic bronze wildlife monument to the City of Tulsa."

The one Jay was on is "Prairie Wolves", sculpted by Jocelyn Lillpop Russell, 2006. About 18 total, most along the Arkansas River.

What? Prairie Wolves? Why don't I know about Prairie Wolves?

A quick look at before heading for the wildlife sites brought...

prairie wolf n : small wolf native to western North America [syn: brush wolf, Canis latrans]

Brush Wolf? It still doesn't ring a bell. It's off to Google!


Vol. IV, No. 2, August, 1898A. W. MUMFORD, PUBLISHER

I read that this small wolf was originally the main predator of Bison herds but as humans had now nearly driven the bison to extinction that this species had not only been severely reduced in population it had also been reduced to eating refuse and raiding farms.

I looked back at the copyright of Birds and All Nature, it was August, 1898

This animal with the beautiful name of Prairie Wolf, who now ate garbage instead of hunting Bison was commonly called coyote.

The 1898 article (link below) is well worth reading. Particularly for the story of the Prairie Wolf, yes, coyote, who had previously lost his companions to the farmer during raids of the farm but who then used the ocean to outwit the man and his hounds.

D. Browne

1 comment:

Karen Anne said...


Every animal person I know who is familiar with Palin's anti-animal activities despises her.

Among the so many ways aerial "hunting" is wrong, including that it is done at all, is that it is less likely to result in a "clean kill" (a pause to consider that oxymoron), so the animals not only die, they suffer first.