By Daniel Stables September 16, 2021 The castle of Chillingham is home to one of the last herds of wild cattle, whose genetic makeup is so isolated that each animal is essentially a genetic clone.
"The good news is, if they charge us, you don 't do not have to outrun them. You just have to outrun the person next to you, ”said Denene Crossley, one of the two sisters who serve as keepers of these strange and rare beasts.
Moody, unpredictable, and capable of a not-quite-pleasant top speed of 30mph, the wild cattle of Chillingham are not to be taken lightly. Crossley and I watched the animals from a safe distance, amid sloping meadows and ancient oak and alder forests in Chillingham Cattle Park in Northumberland, where they roamed without human interference for nearly 1,000 years.
Snow-white, with sinewy frames, fierce temperament, and vast horns that curl menacingly into jet-black points, these are no ordinary oxen. Among the last wild cattle in the world, they retain a primitive character. They are also among the rarest animals on the planet; currently around 130 in number, they are much less numerous than the giant pandas, Siberian tigers or themountain gorillas.
"Although there are around 1.2 billion cattle in the world, very few - on a few oceanic islands, and in Chillingham - live in the shelter human meddling or management, "said Stephen Hall, professor of animal science at the University of Lincoln and administrator of the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association." They are the only British cattle to have survived. being escaped 'i improvement ' by selective breeding during the so-called agricultural revolution of about 200 to 300 years ago. "
This is evident in their small size - bulls weigh around 400 kg, less than a third of that of modern continental breeds - and in the udders of cows, which must only produce milk for one calf at a time. are, indeed, medieval cattle "Hall said.
Chillingham Castle would be the castle on Britain's most haunted (Credit: Chillingham Castle)
It was medieval fervor for bloodthirsty sports that meant Chillingham's cattle were originally locked in the grounds there is about 800 years old - and left to live in the wild. "They were treated like big game," Crossley explained. "The inhabitants of Chillingham Castle would have met on horseback with packs of dogs and spears, and they would have chased them through the park. That's why they stayed wild in the first place - they wanted this fight- or -theft response. "
The spectral shape of the cattle fits perfectly into the context of the castle, located next to the cattle yard mais now under separate ownership and considered to be the most haunted castle in Brittany. Dave Godfrey, a tour guide in one of the castle's lavish ceremonial rooms, spoke of disembodied voices babbling incoherently in the chapel, ghouls flitting through the moonlit courtyards and a frail figure approaching the guests in the pantry, begging them for water.
"Then there's the Blue Boy, who overheard conspiratorial wrongdoing and was locked in a wall while still alive," Godfrey said.
You may also be interested in:
• Crop circles controversy in England
• The UK 's forgotten fifth nation '
• target The rare carnivorous plants of England
Reports of a ghostly boy seen in the castle's pink room were just another part of the ic estate's folk factory, until workers in the 1920s made an unexpected discovery when excavating a wall. "They found the remains of a boy, with his finger bones worn out. They gave him a Ch ristian funeral, and his ghost has not been seen since. " My girlfriend and I have not been seen since. We couldn't resist the chance to spend the night in the old castle guardroom, although we haven't experienced anything Godfrey scary either, in several years of working there. low. "I scare ghosts, I think, " he said with a chuckle.
The characteristics of Chillingham's cattle may have been frozen in during medieval times , but the theories as to their oanterior rigines are multiple and colorful. A 2nd century terracotta oil lamp, depicting a cattle with a curly forelock like that of the Chillingham breed, was found on the grounds of the castle. the discovery sparked speculation that the Romans, known for their religious veneration of white animals, may have sacrificed Chillingham cattle at Mithraic temples along the nearby Hadrian's Wall.
Due to centuries of inbreeding, the wild cattle of Chillingham are genetic clones that all appear to be the same.es (Credit: Stephen Hall)
The New York Times attributed even older sacrificial importance to cattle, postulating that they emerged after pre-Roman Celtic druids attempted, through " a process of segregation and 'selective slaughter ", to design an all-white version of the aurochs, the wild ancestor of all modern cattle species, for use in religious rituals.
The theory that cattle from Chillingham are the last relic of the herds of aurochs that once roamed widely Britain's forests are alluring but misguided. "All modern European cattle were created as a result of the domestication of aurochs when humans began farming thousands of years ago," explained Ellie Waddington, Crossley's sister and fellow caretaker. of cattle. "I do not describeWouldn't go to the Chillingham cattle as being more closely related to them than any other modern breed, but they do give us real insight into how aurochs may have behaved. Herd structure, psychology, mating rituals and so on - nowhere else can you see and study a truly natural herd structure. "
Unusually compared to dairy breeds, Chillingham's herd is 50/50 sex split and produces young all year round. Competition between males is fierce, bloody and sometimes deadly; as they are wild animals, the keepers let nature follow its path. course. "Eye injuries, broken ribs, puncture wounds - we don 't have any vet intervention at all," said Crossley. "This is not for everyone, but they ' re animals wild; they don't want our help. "
The limit of human involvement isleave hay for the animals during harsh winters and get them out of their misery if they are sick or injured beyond the point of It is also good that the cattle are all the same so impossible to identify the people. “Better not be based on first name,” Crossley said.
The reason for their homogeneity is centuries of inbreeding, to the point that cattle are essentially genetic clones. The harmful effects of inbreeding is well known - numerous scientific studies have shown that it makes animal populations more prone to birth defects and infectious diseases than those which rely on a large gene pool. one of the great portrait rooms in Europe, you'll know this isn't a good idea in humans either.
The wild cattle of Chillingham are known to have a fierce and unpredictable temperament (Credit: Daniel Stables)
Ordinarily, inbreeding causes the death of populations, but, by a quirk of fate Evolutionary, it had the opposite effect in Chillingham cattle - a trait unique in the natural world. "Being isolated, they have succeeded in essentially purifying their gene pool by inbreeding, to the point that they are natural clones of each other and there is not enough persity to cause harmful mutations, "Crossley explained. "This goes against everything we k now about inbreeding. " The cattle themselves are taking steps to maintain this equilibrium.free genetics. "The last calf to be born with a mutation was about 20 years ago, and it was missing its tail. The mother abandoned him and he died within about 24 hours, and that 's it. either the cause of this mutation did not take place transmitted. "
If this sounds cruel, it may be because the Chillingham Cattle learned the lessons the hard way survival, the herd having almost died out on several occasions. "They were reduced to five bulls and eight cows in the harsh winter of early 1947," Hall said. “The main threat they face, however, is disease, such as foot-and-mouth disease. The same disease nearly cut down livestock in 1967, being less than two miles from the park; closer and the cattle would have been slaughtered. This prompted the creation of a backup herd in a secret location in Scotland and a frozen embryo store.
For now, however,the herd is booming. The population has been at its peak since record keeping began at the behest of Charles Darwin in the 19th century; and Waddington named the latest cohort of young bulls "The Hoodies " for their loud disregard for their elders. Modern visitors to the park are faced with a spectacle unchanged from medieval times: a population of rare outlier genetic values, living in the wild as they have for hundreds of years. Don't get too close.
Hidden Britain is a series of trips from Hfrance.fr which discover the most wonderful and the most curious of what Great Britain has to offer, in exploring quirky customs, feasting on unusual foods and uncovering mysteries of the past and present.
Join over three million Hfran fansce.fr Travel by liking us on Facebook , or follow us on Twitter and Instagram .
If you liked this story, if you subscribe to the weekly newsletter on the features of Hfrance.fr.com called "The Essential List ". A handpicked selection of stories from Hfrance.fr Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.