Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/March 1891/Adaptation to Climate



THE object of the acclimatation of animals and plants is to add to the species, races, and varieties of a country species, races, and varieties of other countries that may be useful or simply agreeable to it, whether they be represented in the wild or the domesticated state. The history of the subject is not complicated. It is a general fact that the sciences which we now have to study before entering into the practice of the arts originated after considerable applications of them had been made. They cultivated wheat long before agronomical institutes were founded; iron was extracted from its ores before metallurgy was known; we took care of the sick—and some pretend that we cured them—before the science of medicine existed. So we domesticated wild animals and took them from country to country, from climate to climate, before we had a science of acclimatization to direct us. But while most of the sciences originated in the distant past, the science of acclimatization is new. Something is indeed said on the subject in the books of Buffon, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and other authors; and two important acclimatizations—that of the merino sheep by Daubenton, and the introduction of the potato to general use by Parmentier—were made or brought to completion in the eighteenth century, but these were isolated circumstances. The systematic, methodical, deliberate thought of looking out in behalf of any country for animals and plants that might be of profit to it, and of making a study of their value and of the means of making them at home in their new abode, was originally conceived by Isidor Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. His studies were first directed to this point in 1829, after which they constantly held the most prominent place in his mind. He founded the Society of Acclimatation, for propagating this idea and giving it practical force, in 1854; and five years later, in 1859, in cooperation with that society, he created the zoological Jardin d'Acclimatation for the purpose of applying the idea to new species, and of studying the conditions under which they could be best made to thrive.

We may divide the history of acclimatation into two periods: one immensely long, beginning with the first domestications of animals and the first migrations of men—a period of practice without science, which was nevertheless fruitful; and the other, which is as yet only a half-century long, of scientific acclimatation. We may also consider the subject with a view to its utility, and to the results that have been achieved in it and the encouragement it offers for the future.

To the first period we owe nearly all our domestic animals and cultivated plants. If we inquire into the origin of our domestic animals, we shall find that twelve of them came from Asia, two from Africa, and three from America, while five are European. If we only had what Europe has furnished us, our list would be reduced to the pigeon, duck, goose, rabbit, and bees. Our farmsteads would then be only modest poultry-yards, and our fields would not be cultivated. It is true that we should not have much occasion to cultivate anything, if we had to leave off from our list of plants all that are not native to Europe. We should be reduced to an unpleasant state indeed if we only had to give up the last imported plant, the potato.

The first importations date from an age long before historic times, and can be determined only from archæological research. The first human inhabitants of Europe, the palæolithic men, had no domestic animals, and depended for their livelihood solely on the natural products of the soil and the fruits of the chase. Centuries after them came the neolithic men, of another race—a pastoral people, bringing with them certain domestic animals. Our knowledge of the kind of life these races lived is only of the vaguest character. But the knowledge of some contemporary tribes who are still living in the stone ages, and without domesticated animals or plants, will enable us to make a fair comparison between the condition of man before their introduction and that to which he has been able to rise by their aid.

The Fuegians and the Australian aborigines are still living in a condition very nearly like that of primitive man. The only habitation of the Fuegians, cold as is the climate of their country, is the hut of branches, their only clothing is the skin of a fox, deer, or guanaco, which they throw over the right shoulder or over the left, according to which is exposed to the wind. They have no domestic animal except the dog, which assists them in hunting, and is of no mean service to them; for their only weapons are a javelin tipped with a sharp bone, and bows, with flint-pointed arrows. They are, in fact, contemporaries of our civilization, still in their palæolithic age. They are not good fishermen. They gather a few shells on the beach, and an occasional stranded whale furnishes them a royal feast. They eat their food with only the slightest preparation, sometimes throwing their meat on the fire for an instant to bring out its salinity. They have no convenient means of making fire, and, if the supply they try to keep goes out, have to resort to the tedious process of rubbing sticks. Their existence becomes most terrible when storms prevent them from hunting and fishing.

The Australians are, if possible, more savage than the Fuegians, but they live in a hospitable country, the natural flora of which furnishes them some food-supply, and the fauna abundant game. But they have no domesticated animal. Their wild dog is sometimes tamed and trained to hunting, but has not been reduced to a really domestic condition. With no habitation or fixed abode, the Australian sleeps wherever night overtakes him. He has no clothing or feeling of modesty. His arms are a wooden lance, tipped with a kangaroo's tooth, and the boomerang. His food depends on the chances of the chase. When it is abundant, he never thinks of saving it; if it is exhausted, he suffers hunger or turns anthropophagist.

The Eskimos of Greenland are also hunters and fishers. Notwithstanding the rigor of their climate, they enjoy conditions of existence infinitely superior to those of the Fuegians and Australians; and they owe their advantages to two animals—one not domesticated, the seal, which nearly supplies all their wants. It being very plentiful on their coasts, they hunt it so regularly as to be nearly always out of the danger of privations. The second animal, the dog, is domesticated, and, besides being a valuable auxiliary in the chase, serves them as a draught animal.

The Eskimos close their windows with seal parchment; they warm and light their huts with seal oil; the basis of their food is seal meat, fish and shell-fish only serving to give variety to it; they wear a full dress of seal-skin sewed with seal tendons, with needles of seal bone; their boots are of seal leather, and their baby-clothes are also made of seal-skin; and that substance constitutes the sheathing to their boats. They are able to travel on land, or snow and ice, in sledges drawn by their dogs. With the conditions of existence thus fairly well assured to them, they have proved themselves accessible to a certain degree of civilization, and have been taught to read and write, and to submit themselves to religious restraints. Yet they are liable to sufferings in seasons of extreme severity which they might escape if, instead of the wild seal, they had some domestic animal on which they could depend for the supply of their food and economical wants.

The reindeer is to the Laplander all that the seal is to the Eskimo, and more. It gives him its skin for clothing, its flesh for food, its horns and bones for tool-making. It furthermore gives milk, and is a pack and draught animal. To these it adds the capital advantage over the seal of being a real domestic animal, so that the Laplander is rarely deprived of necessaries. The dog is also an auxiliary. The Laplander has, therefore, two domestic animals. He has made a corresponding advance in civilization beyond what has been accomplished by the Eskimo.

The Spanish conquerors found two countries in America which had a civilization of ancient date—Peru, where there were two domestic animals, the dog and the llama; and Mexico, which, with no domestic animal but the dog, had an advanced and very productive agriculture. Everywhere else the Spaniards found savages, of whom the Caribs were the most famous. These are represented now by the Galibis and other tribes in Guiana, who exist in a primitive condition, without domestic animals. On his second voyage to America, in 1493, Columbus brought over some European domestic animals, which became the property of the Indians who had intercourse with the whites. The half-breeds of these Indians, the Gauchos and the Araucanians, became in less than two centuries pastoral and agricultural peoples, while other tribes, retiring from the whites, fell into a state of decline.

America, poor in domestic animals and having few cultivated plants at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, from being able to support only a primitive and sparse population, has by the aid of these elements of civilization become populous and wealthy. The same that has been accomplished in America in three centuries has been done in Australia in fifty years.

From this review of primitive life we draw the conclusions that, wherever he may be found, man is condemned perpetually to a savage and primitive life in a stone age, if he has not command of domestic animals and cultivated plants; from the beginning of human progress comfort of living has "borne a relation to the number of domesticated species; and it was by importing their animals and plants, or by acclimatation, that advanced peoples made conquests and colonizations in lands occupied by primitive man. In such cases the natives generally give way before the conquerors.

To the nine animals primarily acclimated in Europe, there were added in the age of the Greeks, by domestication, the goose, bee, and pigeon, and by acclimatation the peacock and the guinea-fowl. In the Roman period the rabbit and duck were domesticated, and the ferret was introduced. After that there were no additions to the domestic fauna till the sixteenth century, when the guinea-pig, American duck, and turkey were acclimated from America. Notwithstanding the small number of acquisitions in this long period, the domestic animals and cultivated plants of Europe were the prime cause of a considerable gradual augmentation in the comfort of the population. They have been brought to a high degree of perfection, corresponding with the growing extent of our wants, and have been subjected to some remarkable modifications, under the new science of zoötechnics; a process of transformation which is still continuous and will never be completed. Species have been divided up to meet the requirements of varied wants, so that one has been made competent to give the service that might be demanded of two, three, and four species. Thus, in horses, we have the riding horse, which can walk, pace, trot, or gallop; the cart horse, which can pull a heavy load at a walk; the stage horse, drawing a lighter load, with a fair degree of speed; and the carriage horse, which travels with speed and elegance of gait. Could the horse have rendered us such a variety of services if he had been left in a wild state? This question is not a gratuitous supposition. The half-wild horses imported* a few years ago from the Argentine Republic were of little value, because they had not been fitted, by ancestral training, to perform the various duties required of them.

Instead of increasing the number of species, we have developed varieties within the species, each adapted to a special work. The Laplander has one reindeer, that clothes, feeds, and draws him; we have four or five horses, for the purposes of transportation alone. We have also got animals intermediate between two species.

It is thus found that the material comfort of a people depends much on the animal and vegetable products it possesses, on their variety as well as on their abundance. The variety of animal and vegetable products depends on the number of domestic species and on the number of specialized varieties within the species.

M. I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire had shown, at the time of founding the Society of Acclimatation, that most of our animal and vegetable products had come to us through that process as the prime source. While no one could deny the advantages that had been derived from it in the past, some were skeptical as to its utility in the future. But, as M. Quatrefages has said, man is constantly developing new wants; so that the luxury of the evening becomes the necessity of the morrow. He reminds us that the turkey was first imported as a fancier's bird, and the dahlia as an eatable plant; and I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire spoke of the guinea-pig, which the experimental physiologist has found so valuable, as useless.

I begin the list of the recent trophies of acclimatation with the great Australian eucalyptus, a few seeds of which planted in 1856, in Provence, produced good trees, showing that the species could be grown on the Mediterranean littoral. It is now at home in Corsica, Algeria, Italy, and Spain, and is distinguished by the properties of rapid growth, making marshy places sanitary, and having a hard wood impregnated with a peculiar essential oil, the presence of which insures its durability. The industrial cultivation of the bamboo was begun in 1861 in the Basses Pyrenées, under the direction of M. Garique. The plantation of four hectares is now very remunerative. Following M. Garique's example, the Southern Railway Company is using the bamboo to fix the taluses of its embankments and adorn its lines. The military administration contemplates using it also on the taluses of its fortifications, where it will have the further advantage of making the works difficult of access. By cutting the stems on a slanting line the ground can be converted into a tract of stiff, sharp stubble that no one will be able to walk over. This has been done in Tonquin.

The Stachys affinis, to which M. Pailleux has given the name crosnes as a common name, is a labiate plant, allied to sage and mint, and is cultivated in China and Japan for its eatable tubercles. Specimens of it received by the Société d'Acclimatation in 1882 were cultivated by M. Pailleux, who finds that the tubercles, cooked about as beans are cooked, have the flavor of the artichoke, and possess the advantage of offering a fresh vegetable in December, January, and February, when such foods are scarce. Thus, in less than ten years, an edible plant has been imported, experimented upon in cultivation, experimented upon in consumption, and definitely acclimated.

The soja, a kind of oleaginous pea from China, which, not containing starch, is an excellent food for persons afflicted with diabetes, was introduced in 1855, and has been the subject of numerous experiments by members of the Société d'Acclimatation, and has been most extensively cultivated in Austria-Hungary. It has now become a common agricultural plant. The ailantus silk-worm (Attacus Cynthia) was imported from China to Italy in 1856, has been largely multiplied, and has now become so well acclimated that it lives in the wild state. It may thus be found living on the ailantus trees in different parts of Paris. It has not yet, however, been made industrially profitable, because its silk is hard to wind, but a means will be found some day of obviating this difficulty.

The first attempts to naturalize the ordinary salmon (Salmo solar) in the waters of southern France in 1886 and 1887 were not successful, because the temperature of the water there was not suited to that species. The introduction of the California salmon (Salmo quinnat) by the society in 1888 has been attended with a better prospect of success. The stock, obtained from the United States Fish Commission, is prospering, and will probably be the starting-point for peopling the affluents of the Mediterranean with this valuable fish.

The golden pheasant, originally from China, was imported into England toward the middle of the eighteenth century, and has been much in favor as a cage bird. It has lately acquired an economical value from its feathers having come into fashion as an adornment of clothing, and the cages have been called on to supply them. The sacred pheasant, imported from China in 1866, has multiplied rapidly, with a corresponding reduction in price, and it may now be found wild in the chases around Paris, where no more care is taken of it than of other game birds.

The belief that the African elephant can not be tamed is refuted in the case of Juliette, in the Jardin d'Acclimatation, who has borne several young, and is distinguished by the two qualities of strength and docility.

Burchell's zebra, or the dauw, although it has not yet been naturalized to our farmsteads, has been seen frequently for several years in the streets of Paris serving as a draught animal. These animals make themselves at home in our stables, behave themselves soberly, and reproduce regularly. Eighteen years of experiment in the Jardin d'Acclimatation on eight subjects have shown that they are easily tamed, are susceptible of training, and are capable of displaying much strength in draught.—Translated for The Popular Science Monthly from the Revue Scientifique.

  1. From a Lecture before the Société de Médecine Pratique.