Septem­ber is mate call­ing time

In the Bras d'or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve

The Victoria Standard - - Environment - ANNAMARIE HATCHER

The Septem­ber moon is called Wikumkewiku’s, or mate-call­ing time in Mi’kmaw cul­ture. I am sure that the mat­ing an­tics of the moose (Mi’kmaq: Tia’m) played a part in that de­scrip­tor for this time of year. Pre­his­toric-sound­ing wails of a cow moose in heat are an­swered by a qui­eter, gut­tural sound from the bull and the two find each other to bring this lovesick singing to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion. Those noisy moose are rel­a­tive new­com­ers to Cape Bre­ton (Mi’kmaq: Unama’ki). Na­tive Cape Bre­ton moose were com­mon in the 1700’s but thou­sands were killed by colonists and the pop­u­la­tion was wiped out by the early 1800’s. In 1947-48, 18 moose were cap­tured at Elk Is­land Na­tional Park in Al­berta and re­leased at Roper’s Brook on the eastern side of the Cape Bre­ton High­lands. The present pop­u­la­tion of the is­land is largely com­posed of their de­scen­dants. So, that bull moose may be in hot pur­suit of a po­ten­tial mate that is his sec­ond cousin!

An­other voice added to the Septem­ber cho­rus in the Bio­sphere is that of the white-tailed deer (Mi’kmaq: lentuk). Lentuk is an­other new­comer to mod­ern Cape Bre­ton. In a book by Ben­son and Dodds "Deer of Nova Sco­tia" which was pub­lished in 1977 it was re­ported that dur­ing the mid 1890's white-tailed deer were re­leased in the Digby and Halifax ar­eas. The herd spread and had reached all main­land coun­ties by 1904 and Cape Bre­ton around 1911. Ever since then, dur­ing Septem­ber to Novem­ber, the Bio­sphere forests and fields have been pep­pered with bleats and grunts as white-tailed does and bucks in­di­cate to each other their readi­ness to mate.

A third mam­mal that may have played a part in the Septem­ber mate call­ing cho­rus is the por­cu­pine (Mi’kmaq: ma­teus). Dur­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, they are vo­cal with moans, screams, grunts and barks as they search for suit­able mates and try to at­tract their at­ten­tion. These prickly ro­dents, whose Latin name trans­lates to ‘quill pig’, are com­mon across main­land Nova Sco­tia and the rest of Mi’kma’ki, but are ab­sent on our is­land. So, if their mat­ing calls played a part in the orig­i­nal Mi’kmaw name of the Septem­ber moon, then the nam­ing must have orig­i­nated some­where out­side of Cape Bre­ton.

The story of why there are no por­cu­pines on Cape Bre­ton Is­land is in­trigu­ing. What is your the­ory? I have heard many ideas about this gap in our wildlife com­mu­nity rang­ing from the in­abil­ity of the prickly mam­mals to stay afloat and swim across the Canso cause­way to a sup­posed fear of walk­ing along the lonely stretch of road link­ing the is­land to the main­land. I know that they are good swim­mers and steady (but slow) walk­ers, so these sugges­tions may not ap­ply. Ecol­o­gists have ex­am­ined the habi­tat on both sides of the Canso Strait and can find no dif­fer­ence in terms of suit­abil­ity for por­cu­pines. This leads me to be­lieve that the story about a curse may have some merit. Have you heard the story about an early Je­suit mis­sion­ary be­ing killed by por­cu­pine and skunk tor­ture? The tale that ex­plains it all was re­counted by a Mr. F. Speck in the Jour­nal of Amer­i­can Folk­lore in 1915.

“Why there are no por­cu­pines or skunks in Cape Bre­ton:

Dur­ing the war be­tween the English and French in Canada, the English sol­diers at Louis­burg, Cape Bre­ton, cap­tured a French priest. They tor­tured him by putting him naked into a pen with por­cu­pines and skunks to kill him by their quills and the odor. Then he said that never again would skunks or por­cu­pines live on the is­land, and now to­day there are none here. Even if they are brought to the is­land, they die when they eat the things that grow here, on ac­count of the curse.”

So, this in­trigue may lend an in­ter­est­ing twist to au­tumn walks in the Bio­sphere. What be­longs here and what has been in­tro­duced? What are the ‘things that grow here’ that kill por­cu­pines? Lis­ten for the lovesick cries of the moose and the deer (come from aways) and if you see or hear a por­cu­pine, please take a pic­ture and let us know!

Dr. Annamarie Hatcher is a con­sult­ing ecol­o­gist and a board mem­ber of the Bras d’or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve As­so­ci­a­tion. The curse of the por­cu­pine was ac­cessed at: https://www.js­tor. org/sta­ble/534558. For more in­for­ma­tion about the Bras d’or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve As­so­ci­a­tion, please visit our Face­book page or http://blbra.ca/.

Of all the an­i­mals calls you might ex­pe­ri­ence around Cape Bre­ton, the Pocu­pine is strangely one you won't hear as colum­nist Annamarie Hatcher ex­plains.

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