Saturday, December 10, 2011



Whilst rifling through the Archive for material on Bulgakov (see last post) I unpacked the time capsule of material relating to my Greenpeace trip to Moscow in 1988 and came across this photo. That is me with Vadim Gorbatov, the leading wildlife artist in the USSR. As I recall he arrived with two huge folders of his artwork which it was my privilege and pleasure to go through with him. A dazzling experience. He gave me two packs of postcards of his work and two wonderful posters which I still treasure. These are three of the cards that I particularly like.


(Top) The Five-toed pygmy jerboa which has the delightful Latin name of Cardiocranius paradoxus. According to the Encyclopaedia of Life, these jerboas ‘are found only in a few areas in Asia. In Russia they are found in the Ubsu-Nur Depression of the Tuva Autonomous Region in the extreme south-central part of the country. In Kazakhstan, their range is restricted to a small area north of Lake Balkhash, where the species was first discovered. They are also found throughout western and southern Mongolia, as well as in the Nan Shan Mountains of northern China. ("Five-toed Dwarf Jerboa", 1999; Gromov and Eszhanov, 2004; Gromov, 2002)’

(Centre) The White-naped Crane (Grus vipio) breeds on the borders of Russia, Mongolia and China. It is in the Vulnerable category of the IUCN Red List because, according to Birdlife International, ‘it is thought to be undergoing a continuing population decline largely as a result of the loss of wetlands to agriculture and economic development.’

(Bottom) This striking painting depicts either a male Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) or a Siberian bighorn (Ovis nivicola) aka snow sheep. The confusion arises because the Latin name on the back of the card reads Ovis canadensis borealis. The wonderful Ultimate Ungulate site lists no sub-species of that name. There is a borealis of the snow sheep but that Latin name would be Ovis nivicola borealis. How confusing and pedantic is that. In the course of trying to unravel this, I learnt that, according to the latest gene sequencing techniques: ‘the history of true sheep (Ovis) began approximately 3.12 million years ago (MYA). ‘The evolution of Ovis resulted in three generally accepted genetic groups: Argaliforms, Moufloniforms, and Pachyceriforms.

;The Pachyceriforms of the subgenus Pachyceros comprise the thin-horn sheep Ovis nivicola (snow sheep), Ovis dalli (Dall and Stone sheep), and Ovis canadensis (Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn). North America wild sheep (O. canadensis and O. dalli) evolved separately from Eurasian wild sheep and diverged from each other about 1.41 MYA. Ancestral stock that gave rise to snow sheep, Moufloniforms, and Argaliforms occurred 2.3 MYA, which then gave rise to two different extant lines of snow sheep that diverged from each other about 1.96 MYA. The more recent nivicola line is genetically closer to the North American wild sheep and may represent a close association during the refugium when Alaska and Siberia were connected by the Bering land bridge. The earlier period of evolution of the Pachyceriforms suggests they may have first evolved in Eurasia, the oldest ancestor then giving rise to North American wild sheep, and that a canadensis-like ancestor most likely gave rise to nivicola. ‘

Phylogenetic Analysis of Snow Sheep (Ovis nivicola) and Closely Related Taxa

T. D. Bunch, C. Wu, Y.-P. Zhang and S. Wang/ Journal of Heredity.




A more recent picture from the artist’s own website:

Sending you greetings from across time and space.


Read my interview with Russian conservationist Algirdas Knystautus, author of a book on the Natural History of the USSR. It was published in The Guardian on March 31st 1987

No comments: