|Object Title: Introduced animal teeth and bone|
|Object Number: SGHT.2016.14|
|This month’s object was written by Maddi Kuras
Maddi Kuras is the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s Curatorial Assistant for the 2021-2022 season, whose interest in all things polar is at odds with her childhood in the deserts of Australia. Maddi’s love of science communication has taken her into the halls of various museums, including the Climate Museum and American Museum of Natural History. There, she worked on programming events and exhibitions that helped to communicate climate change to different audiences, while using community engagement to find affirming solutions for global problems.
Maddi has recently completed a Master’s degree in Museum and Gallery Studies at the University of St. Andrews, where her thesis focused on decolonizing how museums depict Indigenous communities within exhibitions on climate change. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Polar Studies at the University of Cambridge.
These animal bones belong to introduced species that were brought into South Georgia by whalers for food, utility, and companionship. They likely come from cows, pigs, and horses.
The first recorded instance of the deliberate introduction of animals to South Georgia was during the German South Georgia expedition during the first International Polar Year (1882-1883), where expedition members brought goats, geese, oxen, and dogs to the island. At the time, goats provided not only meat but also milk to human inhabitants, and adapted well to the local grasslands. Later, whaling stations became equipped with animal houses for keeping pigs and cattle, as well as slaughterhouses to process meat and make sausage and ham. South Georgia sausages often combined both whale and pork, and were reportedly well-received by residents.
The feeding habits of introduced animals played a role in how they were housed on the island. Pigs, as omnivores, were often fed whale parts that could not be used within the industry; thus, they were left to wander around the whaling station during the summer months. Cattle and goats, on the other hand, chiefly fed on the local tussac grasslands and were kept separate from the whaling stations in order to access grazing areas.
Although the bones housed in South Georgia’s collection most likely come from cows, pigs, and horses, these animals were not the only introduced species that populated the island at the height of South Georgia’s whaling industry. Many of South Georgia’s early inhabitants brought a variety of non-native plant and animal species, both intentionally (to serve as a source of food) and by accident. The most impactful of these species were reindeer and rats.
South Georgia is a haven for marine mammals and birds; however, only eight percent of the island is able to support the 24 native species of plant life that grow there. The introduction of reindeer and rats to South Georgia resulted in a dramatic decline in native biodiversity as they fed, reproduced, and roamed the island. As the whaling industry slowly declined and ceased in the 1960s, reindeer and rat populations continued to grow unchecked, causing immense environmental damage.
After large eradication projects, reindeer were removed from the island by 2016; two years later, South Georgia was declared rodent-free.