The Arctic is renowned for drastic variations in animal abundance occurring both in time and in space. At the end of the last century, the caribou population of Arctic Quebec cra-shed, not to be seen again in numbers until the 1960s. This paper compares the interpretations and representations by two social groups, scientists and Inuit hunters, of a single phenomenon — the disappearance of animals from human space. Scientists have portrayed these events as extinctions, and in the case of Quebec caribou, have accused Indians and Inuit of decimating the herds. Inuit of the eastern Canadian Arctic have their own observations and interpretations of animal comings and goings. Through hunter accounts as well as two myths depicted in the lithographs of an Inuk artist, we examine Inuit representations of change in the abundance of caribou and walrus, illustrating how symbolic thought merges with ecological observation. Paradoxically, it is the rigor of the scientists which is called into doubt. Entangled in the webs of their own system of representations, they succumb to the temptation of catastrophism. As for the Inuit, they have at their disposai two distinct Systems of logic. One of these has proven scientifically correct, predicting the return in massive numbers of Quebec caribou herds.
Inuit, Caribou, Animal population cycles, Cognitive anthropology, Myth, Traditional ecological knowledge, Ethnobiology, Catastrophe theory.