26 December 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Unlikely Reindeer

Around the water reservoir behind our house is a small reserve. And in this reserve live reindeer. Or at least, that’s what the children around here think.

In fact they are fallow deer, and they are just as foreign to the dry Karoo as reindeer.

Arch colonialist Cecil John Rhodes imported some to South Africa in the late 1800s - a puzzling move, you might think, since this country is pressed down and running over with antelope.

But if you look back in wildlife history, you’ll find that around that time, hunters had cut such a swathe through the country’s wildlife that there was barely anything left. In fact reserves like the one that would become Kruger National Park were touted around this time, mainly because hunters were concerned there would soon be nothing left to hunt.

Rhodes wasn’t the only one to import the deer. A certain Charles William Southey of the farm Culmstock near Middelburg introduced some to the eastern Karoo in 1912.

Against all odds, the fallow deer thrived in the dry climate of the Karoo. They’ve spread gradually northwards and are now found in the Eastern Free State. But looking at images of European fallow deer, you can see how evolution and local conditions have changed them.

Fallow deer vary in colour, but I have yet to see any with those white-dappled light brown coats here. Most of them are very dark brownish grey. Could it be because of the fierce South African sun?

Category: Wildlife

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