“Some old red deer seems to have taken erratic courses about the ancient haunts of the Wolf of Badenoch.”
—J. Brodie Innes
Letter to Charles Darwin (1/28/1870)
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), known also in North America as an Elk or Wapiti|
|Note: Red deer are often treated as conspecific with the elk, or wapiti, of North America.|
In his Log-book of a Fisherman and Zoologist (1876, pp. 196-197), the English surgeon, zoologist, popular author and natural historian, Frank Buckland (Francis Trevelyan Buckland), gives the following account: “I must not in this chapter omit to mention a curious instance of a supposed hybrid between a cow and a red-deer which came under my notice. When inspecting
the river Beauly, near Inverness, Lord Lovat kindly asked me to examine a supposed hybrid between a red-deer stag and a cow, which was in the cow byres at Beaufort Castle. The animal was standing in a straw-yard. With its head turned away, it was like an ordinary black Scotch cow, but when she turned her head I was amazingly struck with the very deer-like appearance of the face, which the set-on of the ears, the oblong Chinese-like eyes, and the narrow prolongated muzzle, increased.
The story is that a cow was kept in a distant locality, where she could have access to none of her own species, but that there were red-deer stags about. A calf was unexpectedly born in which the deer features appeared. This calf has now grown up into the animal, as above described, which was then four years old. The herdsman told me that the other cattle would never associate with it; and in fact, when he drove it into the cow-shed, in order to tie it up for me to examine, the other animals turned their heads, and snorted at it.
|An ostensible deer-cow hybrid photographed recently (July 2013) in France. Additional pictures of this animal can be seen here. More info >>|
The voice is not like that of the other cattle; it is a short noise like “ump!” “ump!” The action when trotting is somewhat higher than that of an ordinary cow. There are no horns, but a bony knob of a somewhat triangular shape between the ears. Although the resemblance to the deer about the head is exceedingly remarkable, I cannot bring myself to believe that it is a true hybrid.
This same animal and another like it, are discussed in letters from John Brodie Innes to Charles Darwin. Innes was one of Darwin’s close friends and, until 1862, vicar of Darwin’s home village of Downe. In that year he inherited an estate in Scotland and went there to live. From his new home, Innes maintained a correspondence with his friend back in Downe. The following is the text of one of his letters to Darwin, dated Dec. 7, 1868:
If this is a curiosity and anything occurs to you to ask I will put the questions, or you could ask them of Mr. McLean V.S. Inverness.
Mr. Key, a corn merchant in Forres told me he had once before seen a beast of the kind but it was not such an ugly one as this.
Believe me Dear Darwin.
J. Brodie Innes
The following is the text of Dr. McLean’s response to Innes, dated Dec. 15, 1868.
J. Brodie Innes Esqr.
I beg to be excused for being so long in answering your letter of the 8th, which I duly received.
As to your query whether the cow was sent to a Bull, or whether there was a Bull going along with the cow — I can not in th[e] mean time answer — Mr. McDonald told me that the woman had only one cow — in the neighbourhood of a deer Forrest — the head of the animal resembles altogether that of a deer — the teeth ar[e] differantly set from those of a cattle beast — the eye is distinctly that of a deer— in short the head and ears ar[e] quite differant from that of a cow — the ears are perfictly bare of hair — the Ligamentum nuchae — is much stronger than [t]hat of a cattle beast of the same age — the Cervical vertebra is also peculiarly that of a deer — the general construction of the trunk is such as a cattle beast of the same age would have — with the exception of the dorsal Spines which are much Longer.
The extremities — again differ completely from those of a cattle beast — the bones being much smaller and finer — the muscles being harder and much more of a tendonous construction — Showing a peculiar adaptation for speed — there are several parts of the body in the mean time perfectly free of hair — particularly the extremities — My own Impression is that when the animal casts its coat in Spring it will be almost bare of hair — the gait more resembles that of a deer than that of a cattle beast — the hair in the mean time is soft and silky — Any more Information I will gladly give.
Your obedient Servant,
In a letter to Darwin dated Dec. 18, 1868, Innes mentioned that he had forwarded McLean’s letter.
In a subsequent letter to Darwin, dated Jan. 28, 1870, Innes included a clipping from a Scottish newspaper, the Elgin Courant, which mentions the same animal described by Frank Buckland in the passage quoted above.
The text of the letter itself reads as follows:
The above is from the Elgin Courant of this day 28th Jan., 1870. I have not seen the animal. It is satisfactory to know that the former one, which I told you of before and which seemed if not a hybrid, a wonderfully good imitation of one has gone to a menagerie where perhaps in life or death the truth of its origin may be tested. Some old red deer seems to have taken erratic courses about the ancient haunts of the Wolf of Badenoch.
J. Brodie Innes
So much for Darwin’s case. An earlier description of such a hybrid appeared in the June 11, 1847 issue of the Viennese journal Die Gegenwart, (no. 133, p. 612, col. 2). It reads as follows:
Another account of a deer-cow hybrid appears in on p. 4 of the April 19, 1887 issue of the Viennese newspaper Welt Blatt And another in the 1820-1821 installment of Sylvan, ein Jahrbuch für Forstmänner, Jäger und Jagdfreunde, Marburg und Kassel (pp. 124-127, 156). In all of these alleged crosses, the sire is a stag.
And there are also two accounts of a much earlier date. In one, Gerald of Wales (Topographia Hibernica, § II, ch. xxii and Itinerarium Cambrensis, II, ch. xi) describes a cow-deer born at Chester, England in the late 12th century: “Of a cow-deer. In our own time, at Chester
Illustration of the Deer-cow of Chester (from Gerald of Wales’s Topographia Hibernica).|
in England, a deer accosted a cow and from this union a cow-deer was produced. The anterior portion of the animal all the way back to the genital organs was like a cow. But the hips, tail, hindlegs and feet had the hair and color of a deer. But because it preferred cattle to the wild deer it remained with them in the domestic herd. [Translated by E.M. McCarthy. Original Latin (from Topographia Hibernica): “De vacca cervina. Apud Cestriam Britanniae, temporibus nostris, ad vaccam cervus accesserat; unde et vacca cervina processit. Parte enim anteriore tota usque ad inguina bos erat; coxas subinde cum cauda, tibias, et pedes, expresse cum pilositate et colore cervinos habens. Sed quia plus pecoris quam ferae preferebat, inter armenta resedit” Brewer (1861-1891, p. 109).]
Paul Zacchias (1661, p. 502), personal physician to Pope Innocent X, says he saw such a hybrid at Rome: “His eminence Cardinal Barberini possesses an animal born of
Finally, two brief mentions of a different but closely related cross, cow × roe deer (Bos taurus × Capreolus capreolus:
One appears in the July 20, 1911 issue (p. 7, col. 3) of the Salzburger Volksblatt, a newspaper published in Salzburg, Austria:
Passau is a town in Lower Bavaria, Germany near the Austrian border.
Another appears in the April 16, 1905 issue (p. 4, col. 4) of the L'Ouest-Éclair, a newspaper published in Rennes, France:
A FREAK. — At this time, in Châteaubriant there is an extremely odd animal there at La Jandelays, the farm of a M. Peluet, residing there. This animal, born of a cow and which is nearly naked has the head of a roe deer and the feet of a roe deer doe. The hair on its back is like that of a horse.
This singular creature is in good health and can be viewed at La Jandelays.[Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.]
Châteaubriant is a town in western France, about 350 km (220 mi) southwest of Paris
More cervid × bovid crosses:
|Below: A news account of a deer-cow hybrid.|
|The screenshot above is from page 6 of The Spokesman-Review May 17, 1961, published in Spokane, Washington.|
|Below: An old account of a deer-cow hybrid dating to 1840:|
|The screenshot above is from The Cultivator: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Agriculture ..., 1841, Volume 8.|
|Below: An old account of a deer-cow hybrid dating to 1684 (in this case the hybrid was a hermaphrodite, a common condition in many hybrid crosses):|
|The screenshot above is from Miscellanea curiosa, sive Ephemeridum medico-physicarum Germanicarum ... (Norimbergae, 1689), Dec. II, An. VII, p. 395, obs. CCX.|
|Below: Screenshot of a bad copy of an brief article about a deer-cow hybrid calved in Kansas in 1953 (picture was bad in the online copy of the original newspaper):|
|The screenshot above is from an Australian Newspaper Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) Jul 30, 1953, Page 4. Note: Cervus elaphus does not occur in Kansas, so the deer in question here would be Odocoileus virginianus.|
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