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Polar Cows « The Polar Museum: news blog

The Polar Museum: news blog

Polar Cows

Residents and visitors to Cambridge will have noticed that there are some new faces around town. The extensive public art event ‘Cows About Cambridge’ has seen ninety sculptures of cows take to the streets, parks and public buildings of the city, each one designed by an artist, school or community group. Here at the Scott Polar Research Institute, we have our very own: a ‘mini moo’ called Morca, who has been designed and named by students at the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology. She can be found at the side entrance to the Institute, off Lensfield Road, and looks very much at home in the harsh, wintery conditions of the Polar Museum. But what about other cows and domesticated animals in the Polar regions? Is Morca really the first to set foot on the ice?

Morca the cow sculpture

‘Morca’ the cow, part of the Cows About Cambridge public art trail

Although reindeer domestication has occurred for centuries in the Arctic, you might think that examples of domesticated animals in the South Polar region would be few and far between, but not so! Photographs taken during the South Georgia surveys in the 1950s show a working dairy farm, and chickens being kept by the only policeman on the island, Mr Barry Goss. South Georgia is a remote location in its own right, some domesticated animals have made it even further south than this.

A cow (lying down) and calf in a field on the Grytviken dairy farm look towards the camera.

Cows on the Grytviken dairy farm

Some twenty years after Captain Scott infamously took ponies to Antarctica for his ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, another naval officer brought with him his own group of animals. When US Admiral Richard Byrd went on his Second Antarctic Expedition in 1933, he took with him three Guernsey cows. The somewhat outlandishly named Klondike Gay Nira, Deerfoot Guernsey Maid, and Foremost Southern Girl ,were transported to Antarctica and would spend over a year on the ice. They were joined by a young calf, named Iceberg, who was born to Klondike Gay Nira en route.

It seems that an easy supply of milk was not necessarily the only reason for moving three cows across sea and ice. Public image and fame were big issues even then, not least because expeditions such as Byrd’s were privately funded. Laying claim to being the first people to run a functional farm in the Antarctic was a major coup for Byrd and his expedition, and landed the three cows with national fame. Iceberg especially, who was born at sea and raised in Antarctica, landed back in the United States to a hero’s welcome.

Another reason for taking cows to the Antarctic comes down to the political situation at the time. Numerous claims were being made for ownership of slices of the continent, and Byrd was adamant that America should follow suit. Running a farm was a way of showing evidence that the USA had a settlement on Antarctica, which was a requirement when making a claim on a territory. Although America never did fulfil Byrd’s wishes, and all claims were subsequently frozen following the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, his three Guernsey cows (and little Iceberg) have earned their place in Antarctic history. Morca is truly walking in the hoofsteps of legends.

If you want to come and visit Morca, and discover more amazing stories from the Polar regions, book your free ticket to visit the museum on the University of Cambridge Museums website.

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