I am obliged to report that which is reported, but not to believe it.
—Herodotus, The History, VII, 152
Note: Claims that hybrids can be produced from this highly disparate cross require confirmation.
Various mentions of deer-horse hybrids appear in the older literature, all of which apparently refer to crosses involving Cervus elaphus. One such report (Hollick 1880, p. 475), accompanied by the illustration at right, reads as follows: “A few years ago a remarkable hybrid was found in the New Forest, in the South of England, of which we give an illustration. The account given
of it states that “this remarkable filly (seven months old) was found a short time since in the New Forest, and is evidently of a mixed breed, between the horse and the deer. Her mother (a pony mare) was observed to associate with some red deer stags in the New Forest for some months, and, at last, this foal was seen by her side. The nose shows a proximity both to the stag and horse; her forehead is round, like that of the deer; legs slender and distinctly double; hoofs pointed, and partly double; color brown, lighter under the belly, and tail like a deer.
This extraordinary animal is the property of T. G. Attwater, Esq., of Attwater, at the village of Bodenham, three miles from Salisbury. Dr. Fowler, of that city, has inspected the hybrid, and is quite satisfied of the correctness of the preceding statement; and Colonel Buckley (a keeper of the New Forest) has likewise seen the animal, and is of a similar opinion.
This is one of the most remarkable and best-attested instances of hybridization, between animals very remote from each other, that I have ever met with, and proves that with due care, crosses may be effected to a greater extent than is usually supposed possible.
The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (1827, p. 390) contains a brief report about a deer-horse hybrid entitled, “Extract of a Letter to M. de Férussac, dated Berlin, 27th January, 1827.” It reads as follows:
For similar accounts, see also: Ackermann (1898, p. 61); Allgemeine Forst- und Jagd-zeitung (Frankfurt), vol. 3, Sunday, Oct. 18, 1827, p. 500; Anonymous 1827 (cited by Bronn 1847, p. 167). However, all of these trace to the anonymous letter just quoted.
In the 1703 edition of his Stuterey, (Stud Breeding), a manual on horse breeding, Georg Simon Winter von Adlersflügel, pictures a horse, which he says he not only saw, but also rode and trained himself (Adlersflügel 1703, p. 136), that had cloven, deer-like hooves protruding from the pastern on both front legs just above the ordinary hooves (pictured at right). Adlersflügel was a master equestrian and the author of numerous books on equine medicine. According to Adlersflügel’s account, a farmer had put the mother mare out to graze and she was covered by a red deer stag in rut.
In addition, he alleges (p. 138) that, not a deer-horse hybrid, but rather that a related hybrid, a deer-donkey, was present in London’s Royal Menagerie during the early 1680s. He includes a picture of the animal:
|A deer-donkey hybrid supposedly foaled in the Royal Menagerie (London) in 1681 (source: Adlersflügel 1703).|
Adlersflügel gives the following instructions, rendered here in English translation, on how to obtain such hybrids, which may be of use to anyone today who might want to experiment with this cross (Adlersflügel 1703, pp. 128-129): “Begin by keeping a stag and a pregnant mare, who will foal in August, together in a park throughout the spring and summer, through the time of her delivery, so that they will get used to each other’s company. There must be no other beast present. In this way, when the mare, having foaled, comes into heat, the stag, when he enters rut without access to does, will mount and service the mare. And she, being lusty and in heat, will readily accept his advances.”
Two other, earlier authors mention deer-horse hybrids. In his Journey through Wales (twelfth century, translated by Sir Richard Colt Hoare), Gerald of Wales says a mare mated with a stag “and produced an animal of wonderful speed, resembling a horse before and a stag behind.” The Swiss surgeon Jakob Ruf (1500-1558) mentions a separate instance of a deer-horse hybrid (De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis, Tiguri, 1587, p. 48):
Thus, in several of the older accounts of deer-horse hybrids, it is the anterior portion of the hybrid that is horse-like, while the posterior is deer-like, which is the same configuration as Adlersflügel’s deer-donkey hybrid pictured above.
Also, in all cases it is stated that a stag crossed with a mare. Many hybrid crosses are directional in this way, that is, either mating doesn’t occur when the cross is reversed (in the present case the reverse, or reciprocal, cross would be a stallion mated with a doe) or they don’t yield a hybrid even when insemination does occur. It's perhaps worth mentioning, as well, that some distant crosses require many inseminations to produce a single mature hybrid. For example, attempts to cross turkeys with chickens have shown that about 1,000 artificial inseminations of hens with turkey semen are required to produce a single adult hybrid.
An unverified modern account
An anonymous participant in a now defunct page of a hunting and fishing forum posted the picture of an alleged deer-horse hybrid shown at right. When accused of faking the picture, he or she responded as follows:
Lower down on the same page, he or she continued as follows:
Given that the White-tailed Deer is the only cervid native to Georgia, the cross alleged would presumably be Odocoileus virginianus × Equus caballus.
From the standpoint of taxonomic classification, deer-horse hybrids are similar to cow-horse hybrids, another distant hybrid of which there have been numerous reports. Another deer-horse hybrid (moose × horse) has been alleged, but requires confirmation.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
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Original Latin of passage quoted above: “In Gallia vero equa a cervo subacta, pullum peperit, posteriori parte сervae similem, quem nullus alius equus cursu aequare potuit ipsum Ludovicus rex a possessore dono accepit.” From Ruf, J. De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis, Tiguri, 1587, p. 48).