National Geographic : 1939 Oct
DEER OF THE WORLD As Workers, Pets, and Graceful "Living Statuary" in Parks and Estates, These Versatile Creatures Have Endeared Themselves to Mankind BY VICTOR H. CAHALANE «" T HO'S there?" / / Deep in the mashed potato and V V chicken of Sunday dinner in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, I took a few moments to reach the back door of my cabin. The knock was repeated, this time more impatiently. As I opened the door, there on the steps was an uninvited guest. Lowering his antlers, he advanced to knock again. I stepped back while he peered into the room expectantly. Behind him lay the wreckage of our Sunday dessert. Rolling in the dust was the empty ice-cream freezer. Chunks of ice, licked free of salt, were scattered over the ground. The yawning container in formed my wife that it would be necessary to open a can of peaches. Apparently the palates of deer had un dergone a vast change since their prehis toric ancestors inhabited the earth! About 25 million years ago the prede cessors of the modern deer wandered over the vast wastes of a primitive world. They had no horns and were neither so hand some nor so large as their descendants are today. No bigger than cats, they scurried through the Oligocene forests, fighting their battles with long saberlike teeth. Some where in those lost, mysterious centuries the structure of the deer changed gradually. Most of them grew larger and developed antlers. DEER AMONG EARLIEST PICTURES Among the oldest pictures in the world are those of antlered deer carved or painted by our Paleolithic ancestors 50,000 years ago. Some of the deer were 16 pointers! During the thousands of years slow changes of climate took place. The rein deer of the cold regions and the red deer of the warm regions wandered south and north from their respective homes as the glaciers advanced and receded over the earth. As land rose up out of the waters joining continents, the deer originally in- habiting central Asia probably migrated south over the mountain ranges through northern Iran (Persia) to the Caucasus, and through Asia Minor to the Balkans. Crossing the Alps, they reached cen tral Europe. From there they moved on to England, or to Ireland, or the Americas. The waters rose again from time to time, sweeping over the land bridges. As the deer became thus isolated, they adapted themselves in form and habits to their new environments. Modern man has often greatly accel erated the migration, bringing species from one country to another. In the Gallic Wars Julius Caesar wrote about the "elch." An early form of the present Spanish bull fight is recorded by Julius Capitolinus' de scription of 10 elch appearing in the arena with gladiators. The Romans brought the fallow deer to England; the homesick Scots shipped their stag to New Zealand; reindeer were imported to Alaska; and sev eral other species of deer were sent to newly developed countries. NEARLY SIXTY DEER TRIBES IDENTIFIED Primitive man knew only a few kinds of deer, but today exploring scientists have named nearly sixty. These are distributed over the entire world, with the exception of central and southern Africa. Although they differ greatly in size, from the vast moose six and a half feet at the shoulders to the dainty little pudu only twelve inches high (Plate VII), there are certain com mon family characteristics. The males of all but two species proudly display antlers. In the cold and temperate zones they use these to fight bravely and gloriously in the fall, lose them meekly in the winter or early spring, and devote the next few months to growing new ones for further conquests. Perhaps the struggle is less strenuous in the Tropics, for there the shedding frequently has no fixed period. "What becomes of the antlers that deer cast off every year? Why don't we see them?" everyone asks.