The Coldest Dog and Pony Show on Earth: Animal Welfare on the First Expeditions to Reach the South Pole

Author: Wilks, Sarah L.

Source: Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 1 March 2012, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 93-109(17)


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The expeditions to reach the South Pole mounted by Scott, Amundsen, and others between 1901 and 1912 have attracted considerable scholarly effort. These expeditions all took draught animals, which were key to the success or failure of the missions. Much of the literature in this field is highly partisan, focusing on the relative merits of Scott and Amundsen: the fates of their animals have received little attention except as ammunition for one side or another of this very polarized discourse. This paper describes the treatment of the dogs and ponies taken as draught animals on the expeditions led by Scott and Amundsen. These expeditions were planned such that animals would be used to pull sledges and slaughtered when required for food, or when the food for the animals ran out. Each of these expeditions is shown to have engaged in cruel practices and to have caused some animals extreme suffering. Scott's and Amundsen's management of their animals are compared. Amundsen kept close oversight of the care of the animals whereas Scott tended to delegate, with the results that on occasions Scott's animals did not receive timely attention and suffered as a result. Scott had reservations about using dogs because he viewed them mainly as intelligent companion animals. He had difficulties viewing dogs as working animals that might suffer, or as potential food, but no apparent reservations about using ponies in such ways. Amundsen's attitudes towards the dogs on his expedition and the animals' welfare outcomes are closely examined in this paper in the light of previous contentions that Amundsen was a serial animal abuser. While Amundsen also saw dogs as companions, he viewed them as draught animals and/or food sources as he felt his circumstances warranted. It is shown that outrage at the fates of Amundsen's dogs rests within past hagiographic endeavors in addition to modern western beliefs that dogs are pets, not draught animals; and from Western attitudes towards the consumption of dog flesh.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2012

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