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My setting takes place in a densely forested continent, with huge trees and rushing rivers. The problem is that this forest stretches on for thousands of miles, only occasionally punctuated by some ancient ruins. The forest is also populated by 'Keepers', who are sort of like overenthusiastic Ents: They will ferociously attack anyone who they perceive to bear ill will towards the trees.

Now, due to the nature of this forest, most of the countries of my setting aren't really countries - They're more like gigantic cities, usually built in such a way that they don't have to mess around too much with the forests (i.e. built tall, or underground, or into a mountainside). Unfortunately, the forest also means that traveling between one city to another would be extremely difficult, especially on foot.

So, to alleviate this issue somewhat, I'm thinking of introducing some kind of pack animal to setting, preferably something that can be ridden. Unfortunately, I'm not sure exactly what would work best: I'm toying with the idea of some kind of ram.

In summary, what ride-able pack animal would work best in a densely forested area?

Edit: Keepers do not attack wildlife that simply eat parts of trees, because they do no real harm and mean no real harm. They do take offense to animals who actively uproot/destroy trees though - hence why there are none of those creatures left.

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  • $\begingroup$ How do the Keepers respond to native, wild, forest-dwelling animals which eat parts of the trees? What about other vegetation? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 2 '15 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ This is quite confused, I'm not sure what to make of it. Won't those Keepers attack anyone attempting to build just about anything, however small? Why would anyone want to live there? $\endgroup$ – o0'. Feb 2 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Lohoris their God put them there, so they had to grit their teeth and bear it. There are ways to take down keepers, it just isn't cost effective when traveling. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 2 '15 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Not convincing. It is more cost effective to go somewhere else, so that is what would likely happen. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Feb 3 '15 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Lohoris Its a bit more complicated than that, but its not really in the scope of this question. A TLDR version is: When they were made by 'The Creator', he had pre-placed a huge city for them, and expected them to worship him and tame this land in his name. That, plus literally thousands upon thousands of miles of dense angry forest in every direction, is why they stay. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 4 '15 at 1:23

10 Answers 10

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Pack goats have been used in real life, so that's definitely viable. However since they would likely eat parts of the trees, that might not be the best idea to keep the Keepers happy...

Mules have traditionally been used (at least in the United States) as the go-to pack animal for rough terrain. They're hardy, can handle steep trails and rivers, and can carry quite a bit. I know they're used in several natural parks where vehicles aren't an option, and the US Army uses them in places like Afghanistan.

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    $\begingroup$ As a mule owner I would totally go with mules if you wanted something well equipped for rough terrain and to get over difficult obstacles. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Feb 2 '15 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ The taliban also use them in Afghanistan but for other purposes, hence the unforgettable line from one of my friends who was there and encountered one: "You've got donkey on you" $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 2 '16 at 15:24
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I'll stay with my answer from this similar question, Spiders! Enormous spiders bred big enough to ride on, with broad flat backs for strapping cargo to. They could travel among the trees with ease and when the ground clutter was too tight, they could climb up to more open spaces and then web their way around barriers.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh snap! I totally forgot about that question... I hope this one isn't a dupe. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 2 '15 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ @FeaurieVladskovitz Basically, it is a duplicate if any answer to one is equally valid to the other. It looks to me that since your question adds the concept of the Keepers, which I don't see the other question mentioning anything like. This imposes additional restrictions which thus makes your question not a duplicate: certain answers may be valid to both, but a given answer to the other question might not be a valid answer to this question. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 2 '15 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ But wouldn't giant spiders get crushed under the weight of their exoskeleton? There's (thankfully!) a reason spiders don't really become big. See: forestazuaron.com/2012/biology/macrobiology/physiology/… $\endgroup$ – Twinkles Feb 2 '15 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @FeaurieVladskovitz I realized a little too late that the comment wasn't exactly textbook English, but I think I managed to make myself understood anyway! $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 2 '15 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Twinkles: Depending on how far back in the evolutionary timescale you wanted to go, you could have 8-legged vertebrate "spiders". Perhaps this is an alien world where the native life has 8 legs, settled by humans and domesticated Earth creatures? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 2 '15 at 18:43
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I have a couple of horses and a mule and the latter is amazingly good at getting around on tough terrain and would probably be the best terrestrial pack animal for the job.

However, I think in a forest like this we might need something more arboreal, largely because crossing the ground in truly virgin forest can be exceedingly difficult as the forest floor can become a lattice of intersecting fallen timber slowly mouldering down. Consequently you might want something that was more designed for springing from trunk to trunk or at least a creature with feet designed more for gripping than hooves, which really evolved for open and relatively steady terrain.

In terms of pack animals, there are certain characteristics that you need - a certain steadiness of disposition, steady gaits and trainability. For the former I would recommend a herbivore, for the latter a social species.

Looking at what evolution has offered in the past, larger animals tend to be more ground-based and if you start adding luggage then having it spring from tree to tree with giant lemurs would probably be impractical, although super-awesome. I would probably think about something like a giant sloth - large, herbivorous animals with gripping claws that would probably be quite adept at moving through this type of environment. Alternately you could consider something bear-like as they have a similar combination of strength and ability to climb over and through difficult forest terrain, although you might find them a little fierce to train- much easier to work with animals that favour flight over fight.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was actually toying with the idea of a giant sloth... Hmm, I'll keep that in mind, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 2 '15 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ The "virgin forest" depends on the kind of forest. If you read accounts of early American explorers, particularly in the West, you'll see them remark on how open & parklike the forests were, with many large old trees, well separated and shading out the undergrowth. Most of what people think of as forest today is second & third growth scrub, with many small trees competing in formerly clear-cut areas. A temperate, non-rainforest will also have a good many open meadow areas, along streams and where fires have burned. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 2 '15 at 18:49
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What about moose? There are examples of semi-domesticated moose, including Älgen Stolta.

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The Swedish king Karl XI (king 1660-1697) even had plans to form a moose cavalry.

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  • $\begingroup$ Moose also do good in marshy stuff, which eats horse and mule hooves (mules do alright in mud, but not good long-term), $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 2 '15 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome, Bex, well "over here" that is! And +1 as moose will definitely will be a formidable impression! $\endgroup$ – Ghanima Feb 2 '15 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Moose are the largest land animals in north America and are surprisingly fast. This would be a great choice IMO for a forested area. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 2 '15 at 18:36
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To get mules means you'll need to supply both horses and donkeys. That means pasture somewhere.

Mules will carry 150-200lbs reliably, you can put 300-400lbs on a mule (as per USFS - but they're using finer mules) - US Army/USMF goes to 250-400lbs (with 900temp), but they'll begin showing signs of injury after awhile at the higher weight limits (ie: not sustainable for a pack-train). Depending on size, larger your mule the more you can carry. Smaller, finer mules handle rough terrain better.

You'll have to provide some fodder, if you're in a dense canopied forest. That's unsustainable logistically over long distances (your whole load gets eaten up by carrying fodder). Running/standing water may or may not be an issue (don't know the specifics of your forest; daily rains that completely soak in to sandy soil to a depth of 100'? rivers? streams?), but it'll need to be available, or you'll have to haul it. If you have to haul it, you're not going very far.

Mules like trails, game or human-made. They can do some cross-country stuff over rough terrain, but they don't handle the steepest slopes. Not an issue for the forest. You are going to have to watch the rotten logs and burrows. Burrows are known to trap hooves and break legs, I assume massive rotten logs can offer the same problems, a nice outside crust of hard wood, that won't take the weight and collapses, trapping hooves.

Goats get over tougher terrain than mules (ie: they do mountain peaks), and are far less ornery (depending on your mule breed; some mules are almost as nice as goats). They carry a little less (75lbs a side, for 150lbs total (your mule payload also needs to be divided in half for max piece size)), and won't be rideable by any reasonably large human (hobbits is fine). They're more aware of predators. Plus, you can get fresh milk on the trail. Goats can eat anything in the hemisphere they evolved in (destroy poisons/toxins), they run into a few things they weren't evolved for in N/S America, that you have to watch out for.

Consequently you might want something that was more designed for springing from trunk to trunk or at least a creature with feet designed more for gripping than hooves, which really evolved for open and relatively steady terrain.

Like springing from boulder to boulder? Goat's dewclaws prevent slipping, and the hooves are designed for gripping on slippery rock and ice, and they conform with the soft pads to any irregularities (which also increases grip). Split hooves spread force. They handle snow, and mud, and... they don't like crossing water (what?).

Goats handle icy mountains to hot deserts - although there are desert breeds and mountain breeds, and they don't do equally well in all the climates.

Spiders are predators, not sustainable in a pack-train (fodder issue times 100). Unless of course, your forest is teeming with animal game, all the time. Of course, what keeps your spiders from running away and eating well (if you unleash them for feeding time) or eating a delicious human.

Elephants might work, but they need pretty energy-dense food (or to be eating all the time). Also, they destroy trees (knock over to get delicious leaves).

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  • $\begingroup$ Elephants destroying trees might, in the longer term, produce a kind of cleared "road" system over standard routes. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Feb 2 '15 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @glenatron And would piss off the Keepers royally :P $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 2 '15 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, which is why I mentioned 'destroy trees' :D $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 2 '15 at 17:24
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Deer?

Deer tend to live in forests and if reindeer are anything to go by they can be tamed. They live in groups or packs. kind of inspired by the Hobbit film's King Thranduil who lives in Mirkwood (a giant dense forest) and rides a giant Elk. The antlers might be slightly encumbering but this can be bred-out/female deer don't have them(big ones anyway). Deer are also extremely nimble and fast, personally I'd go with them.(Its also a great ideer... Don't judge me.) Deer pick was required

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If you are looking for some historic authenticity, you could always use human porters/bearers. The human body is amazingly versatile for the task of getting around in a forest. We can't carry much, but if you get enough of us together, we can get the job done.

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I would say over-sized squirrels (or another arboreal species) . They are agile creatures and can run through the tree tops. It could be a wild ride. They would have to be really big to carry more than 1 rider, or 1 riders weight in goods, so they might be used more for messaging and transporting small but important/valuable messages/cargo.

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Well, the forests are not safe to walk through, but what about over it, or under it, or maybe even with it?

Over the forest

You could have some manner of dragon as a pack animal, although I would imagine that would not be ideal as I imagine that dragons should be more of a hero's thing rather than an average person's thing.

However, why not create you own animal. Some sort of giant floating sky jellyfish, akin to an overlord in design, but probably not in aesthetics. It should be important for this pack animal to rely on some manner of energy un-intensive flotation/flight, and this jellyfish could have giant Helium organs or something more magical. This would give the giant sky jellyfish immense endurance, as they need no effort to be in the sky, although for larger loads you may require several.

Under the forest

You could have giant underground earthworms that create tunnels under the ground, deep enough so that they would not disturb the roots of the keepers but not too deep as to incur standard deep mining problems, such as ventilation, cooling, and natural gases.

Two ways about it could be that this giant earthworms of yore created these tunnel networks deep under the ground a long time ago, but are now either more dormant or gone for some strange reason, allowing the use of horses or donkeys in a normal fashion, walking along the tunnel.

The other way could be that your people could ride these giant earthworms as they move through the ground

With the forest

The keepers themselves are not robots right? They are living things, with things that they want, and things they dislike. So, it should not be impossible to be able to train keepers of your own that you could then ride on while strapping your stuff onto it.

These keeper keepers would then be a fairly invaluable talent that is very rare, and they would determine what and who moves between the vast tracts of keeper infested forests.

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If mules are not what you are looking for, I would suggest using llama.

Using the species, as is, would limit riders to small adults and children (~100 lbs could be carried by largest). However, in a very thick forest, especially one in which low hanging branches could not be removed, riding would not be common. Instead, strings of pack llama would be led by people walking them along the trails winding through the forest.

The llama does have the additional value of being a meat animal as well as its hair being useful for weaving. Llamas are also useful as watch animals, often used to help guard herds of other livestock.

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