Home South pole ice Greenland dogs captured in beautiful photos as their world disappears

Greenland dogs captured in beautiful photos as their world disappears

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A photographer has captured beautiful images of the ‘phenomenal’ Greenland dog as the numbers of this unique domesticated breed dwindle and their arctic habitat undergoes rapid change due to climate change.

The images were taken by South African wildlife photographer and filmmaker Danie Ferreira during his many trips to the polar regions, including expeditions to Greenland, the Canadian High Arctic, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and the Antarctica, over the past 30 years.

Ferreira has just published a book, In the coldwhich contains images from these voyages, many of which pay tribute to the extraordinary determination, endurance and strength of the Greenland dogs who have played a vital role in human transportation and exploration in the Arctic region for centuries .

The Greenland dog is a large domesticated husky-like breed that is used as a sled dog. This breed is native to Greenland, the largest island in the world, but their aptitude for this type of work is such that they have been transported around the world for use in expeditions across the polar regions.

“Interestingly enough, all of the notable successful polar explorers had Greenland dogs,” Ferreira says. Newsweek in an interview, citing the example of iconic Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen, who beat American Robert Falcon Scott at the South Pole in 1911, becoming the first person to reach that point.

Close up of a Greenland dog in Svalbard. These dogs have been used to pull sleds in the Arctic for centuries.
Daniel Ferreira

Scott, who was unconvinced by dog ​​sleds, “opted into all sorts of other modes of transportation, like Siberian ponies and motorized sleds,” Ferreira said. “But Amundsen went to Greenland to get Greenland dogs, and he won the race to the South Pole.” (Unfortunately, Amundsen also killed some of his canine companions en route to the pole in order to feed both his men and the remaining dogs.)

Sled dogs have been used in the Arctic for thousands of years. Greenland dogs can trace their lineage back to ancient dogs found in the eastern Siberian Arctic around 9,500 years ago, according to a study published in the journal Science. The first dogs to appear in Greenland were seen around 4,000 years ago as ancient people migrated across the North American continent.

The Greenland Dog is also one of the purest dog breeds. In Greenland, measures have even been put in place to protect its purity by, for example, limiting the import of other breeds of dogs.

A pack of Greenland dogs
A musher leads his dogs in the wilds of Greenland. The athleticism and strength of these dogs make them ideally suited for this type of work.
Daniel Ferreira

This breed is perfectly adapted to life in the freezing Arctic with its thick coat and other characteristics, such as genes that allow it to cope with a high fat diet and thrive in low oxygen conditions. . Their ability to carry sleds over great distances has made them incredibly useful to humans as carriers, but they have also been used for hunting, as well as protection from polar bears and other threats.

“I don’t think either man or dog could have survived in the Arctic if they hadn’t been for each other,” Ferreira said. “There’s such a good reason the man and the dog are together. They’re phenomenal athletes.”

“We traveled several days with these dogs and there were about 12 in a pack. They move at about 12-15 kilometers per hour [7.5-9.5 miles per hour] and they keep that for four hours, regardless of the terrain, pulling a sled that weighs about 700-750 kilograms [1,500-1,650 pounds]. They just have such a wonderful work ethic, they’re exploding with energy – it’s just magic. They go for four hours straight, then there’s a break, then they do another four hours and another, they continue.”

A Greenland dog resting on a boat
A Greenland dog is transported across the Barents Sea to help lead an Arctic exploration. These dogs have been transported around the world for use in polar expeditions.
Daniel Ferreira

Ferreira said that as a cameraman, he always tried to get into the pack when traveling with the dogs in order to take pictures at low altitudes, which sometimes led to unfortunate situations.

“I think I’ve become the shitpiest person in the world,” he laughed. “Because these dogs mark you for some reason. But that’s not a problem. If you’re there with a Gore-Tex shell at -40 C and the dog pees on you, you wait a few seconds and you take it off.”

The photographer said what fascinated him most about dogs was the relationship they had with their “musher”, the driver of a dog sled.

“This relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It’s years of training. You have to be a bit of a dog whisperer. I was fascinated to watch how you command that raw energy of 12 dogs in front of you with your voice. When you and your dogs are in an area and you’re moving, it’s like a symphony.”

A pair of Greenland dogs
A pair of Greenland dogs. Greenland dogs are an enduring force in Arctic history.
Daniel Ferreira

Each pack has its own structure with different dogs playing different roles, Ferreira said. One of the packs that drove him was led by a dog called Ronnie.

“He wasn’t the best dog – he wasn’t the strongest or the fittest and he actually had quite severe ADHD because his attention was diverted quite often. But Ronnie was invaluable to the musher because reacted best to her voice.”

Right behind Ronnie was a dog that he said had the best work ethic and kept Ronnie going. “She kept her head down behind the wheel for four hours without getting discouraged,” he said.

Meanwhile, right at the back of the pack was the “oldest and meanest dog”, guarding those ahead of him in line.

“The musher put him there because the younger dogs were right in front of him,” Ferreira said. “It’s interesting to see how there’s a structure, and quite a thoughtful structure to the peloton line-up and how they actually go from A to B.”

Greenland dogs covered in snowdrifts
Snowdrifts cover the coat of Greenland dogs. These dogs have a thick coat that allows them to thrive in freezing conditions.
Daniel Ferreira

Ferreira said the relationship between man and dog has special value in the harsh Arctic conditions. “I think there’s an interdependence, there’s a synergy between these two who are harnessing totally different skill sets.”

He pointed to research indicating that domestic dogs have smaller brains than their wild ancestors.

“The man relied on his sense of smell, his stamina and his strength in the arctic. But the fact that we started thinking about these dogs to some degree caused their brains to shrink.”

Despite the fact that sled dogs have been used for thousands of years, this relationship is under threat. The number of Greenland dogs has declined significantly over the past two decades or so as the island’s unique sled culture gradually fades away.

The drop in numbers can be partly explained by modern technology, such as snowmobiles, replacing the need for sled dogs. Meanwhile, the shrinking extent of sea ice along the Greenland coast due to global warming is reducing opportunities for local people to hunt in traditional ways, meaning fewer dogs are needed.

Several efforts have been launched to try to protect the future of these dogs and the unique culture that surrounds them. For example, in 2017, a group of scientists came up with 22 recommendations to preserve and develop sled dog culture in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic.

“Many don’t realize how fantastically unique the canine culture is. It’s part of the culture of Greenland,” Morten Meldgaard of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, who helped develop the recommendations, said in a statement to the time. “Genetically, sled dogs are also extremely strong and resilient. We can take great pride in having a vibrant sled dog culture and we need to take care of it.”