The element of surprise.

We usually research an area and its history after each hike. We also fact-check, especially when you discover what we saw on the Reedbuck trail: reindeer in Dullstroom. Say what?

How did they get here? Where did they come from? How do they take to the South African climate? Wait… were they really reindeer we saw? 

Turns out, they were. 

Here are a couple of other facts we found that are too interesting not to share:

Fallow deer are actually found all over South Africa: in Dullstroom, Bedford (Eastern Cape), Free State, the Karoo, around Table Mountain and even on Robben Island. 

The last 16 of nearly 100 fallow deer have been transported and relocated from Robben Island to Lions Rock Nature Reserve in Bethlehem, Free State.

Photo credit: Michael Hammond, Die Burger, News24, Multimedia, 16 September 2011.

Fallow deer were first introduced into South Africa by Cecil John Rhodes in the late 1800s. Until recently, they still roamed the forests around the Rhodes Memorial on Devil’s Peak. Coincidentally, in 1912, the same year in which the memorial was built, another herd was introduced into the Karoo by Charles William Southey. Fallow deer are very hardy and took to the South African climate surprisingly well, especially in the cooler climate ranges, such as the Highveld and wherever they had access to savannah grasslands.

In 1963, prison staff brought some of the deer to Robben Island to be hunted for sport. The Robben Island population have grown hugely, at certain times reaching 300+, and started threatening the indigenous fauna and flora on the island. There are no natural predators and the island fynbos ecosystem is very fragile. The Robben Island governing body has subsequently started culling and relocating some of these animals to Lions Rock Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Free State. Imagine the fallow deer’s surprise when they found out they were being moved from a prison island to a big cat sanctuary. There are currently no fallow deer left on Robben Island.

An IOL article on the culling can be found here.

The fallow deer itself is a fascinating animal. For example… are you ready for this… they shed their antlers annually. Male fallow deer and, in some other species in the family, females grow a new set of antlers every season. At certain times of the year, (aside from the very obvious),, size is the only way to tell the difference between a doe and a buck as their horns are the same size. Later in the season, the buck’s horns grow bigger than the doe’s, and – proportionately to their body size, their horns are the biggest in the animal kingdom. 

Fallow deer, reindeer, caribou, moose and elk are all part of the same family. Jim Hertbert has a beautiful pin board of fallow deer, reindeer, red deer and roe deer photography.


Zebra at te Millstream Farm.

Another research spiral that had us fascinated was one about zebra domestication. On a walk on Millstream Farm, we pondered how the zebra escaped the work life of the domesticated horse.

Turns out, people have tried to tame zebra but, much like the zebra’s dress sense, they’re quite unpredictable. Not only are they skittish from years of living in Africa amongst lions, leopards, crocodiles, wild dogs and hyenas, but they are also aggressive. When panicked, zebras bite and kick; a kick that can easily kill another zebra or human. Of all the animals, these guys are responsible for the most injuries to zoo keepers.  

Some of the more successful attempts to tame zebras

Rothschild with his famed zebra   carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace   to demonstrate the tame character of zebras to the public.

Rothschild with his famed zebra carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of zebras to the public.

 A certain Walter Rothschild (1868–1937) had a carriage three quarters entirely drawn by zebra.

Another attempt was made a Kenyan doctor named Rosendo Ribeiro (1871–1951), who attended to house calls on a zebra that he tamed.

Dr. Rosendo Ayres Ribeiro, ready for house calls.

Dr. Rosendo Ayres Ribeiro, ready for house calls.

Last but not least was the cavalry of the Schutztruppe, the imperial German force in East Africa, who rode, with the element of surprise on their side, into battle on the backs of zebras.

The element of surprise.

The element of surprise.

You can find links to the Millstream Farm hike and the Reedbuck trail here: