New species discovered in Exploits Valley

Scientists seek to study moose-caribou cross

Andrea Gunn agunn@live.ca
Published on April 1, 2013
This blurry photograph taken by a local hunter is the only known image of the moosibou, a new species recently discovered in the Exploits Valley.
Submitted

Scientists have discovered a new cross species of mammal, and the only place it has been observed is just outside of Grand Falls-Windsor.

The animal is a cross between the caribou and the moose, both of which exist naturally in the Exploits region - biologists have dubbed this new animal the 'moosibou' (pronounced moose-a-boo).

According to biologist Doctor B. Winkle with the Canadian Foundation for New Animal Species and Crossbreeds, there is a small herd living near Wooddale, a farming district just outside of Grand Falls-Windsor where caribou herds have been known to frequent.

Dr. Winkle told the Advertiser crossbreeding between these two mammals has never been recorded, and up until now, it wasn't thought to be possible.

"We don't know enough about this animal yet to understand how it's possible that that these two mammals from completely different genera were able to reproduce in such a way as to produce viable offspring," Dr. Winkle said.

Dr. Winkle's foundation became aware of the new animal after being contacted by local farmer Rudolph Donner. Donner is an outdoorsman, and has spent many years observing the wildlife that exists around his property.

"When I saw the (moosibou) I knew something was different, but it wasn't enough to make me realize what I was observing," Donner said.

Donner said after seeing what he called "strange looking moose" several times and noticing the clear variation of traits such as antler size, fur colour, and body size and shape, he got in contact with the proper authorities.

"I feel very lucky to be one of the first people possibly in the entire world to have witnessed this," said Donner.

Winkle said his association is currently acquiring research grants from a number of Canadian universities to assemble a team of scientists to study the moosibou in its natural habitat.

Winkle said his educated guess is that the localized caribou and moose herds have developed genetic variations from living in close proximity to one another that has allowed them to mate and produce offspring.

"We have no idea what would cause them to do this, whether there was a shortage of mates that caused them to broaden their horizons, or if we're just looking a particularly adventurous group of moose or caribou," said Winkle. "We do know that these sorts of variations usually happen over hundreds, if not thousands of years."

The closest example of this kind of cross-species breeding is the mule, which is the offspring of the horse and donkey, but Dr. Winkle said the moosibou is even more of a scientific marvel as the caribou and moose are even more removed in their scientific classification than the horse and donkey as they each come from a different genus.

"We have so many questions about the moosibou, are they able to reproduce within themselves? Which characteristics have they inherited? How long has this been happening?" Winkle said. "That's what we're hoping to find out by sending a team to study them."

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