Ether 6:4. New World vs. Old World Animal Species

Ether 6:4. New World vs. Old World Animal Species

The Jaredites, who lived in the region before the Nephites and Lamanites, brought with them on their ocean-going barges “food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them” (Ether 6:4). Yet the animal species known from the New World are not the same as those known in the Old World from which the Jaredites supposedly came.

Noah Animals Ark MormonIt is possible that the Jaredites brought animals on board the barges only for food during their lengthy ocean voyage. We do not know if any of them survived to arrive in the New World, nor do we know if they were domestic fowl or a mixture of domestic and wild fowl. The Book of Mormon does not claim that American animal species descended from animals imported by the Jaredites or any other people, and we should be careful not to read this into the text. Once settled in the New World, the Jaredites had a number of domesticated animals (Ether 9:18-19; see also Ether 9:31; 10:12), but we cannot be sure which of these, if any, came on the barges and which were domesticated from native American stock.

If the Jaredites imported animals, they could have been destroyed by predators after the people turned from agriculture and husbandry to a war of extermination. Imported animal species do not always survive in their new environment, particularly when they become feral, as did Jaredite animals during a severe drought (Ether 9:28-35). Several nineteenth-century attempts to introduce a European quail species into the United States failed.[i] And though scientists believe that camels originated in the New World, camels imported into the United States and Canada during the nineteenth century and later turned out into the wild ultimately died out.[ii]

The Nephite record occasionally mentions “beasts” that were hunted for food (Enos 1:3; 3 Nephi 4:2) and “beasts of prey,”[iii]but of the latter only the wolf is actually named (Alma 5:59), though there are also said to have been vultures (Alma 2:38). Abinadi mentioned “beasts” that could tread down stalks in the field, which suggests herd animals of some sort, but whether domesticated or wild is uncertain (Mosiah 12:11). We cannot know if any of these descended from animals brought to the New World by the Jaredites.

[i] George Laycock, The Alien Animals: The Story of Imported Wildlife (New York:Ballentine, 1970), 180-91.

[ii] Ibid., 141-47.

[iii] 2 Nephi 5:24; Enos 1:20; see also Mosiah 8:21; 12:2; 17:17; 18:4; Alma 2:37-38; 16:10; 3 Nephi 28:22; 4 Nephi 1:33; Mormon 8:24; Moroni 9:10. Mormon 8:24 mentions both poisonous serpents and “wild beasts” that normally harmed people.