The Chillingham Wild Cattle

 In Nature, Travel, Visit Britain, Wildlife

Chillingham Wild Cattle are fascinating rare wild things! I recently saw these in England.

I’ve seen other wild cattle before but those were in more exotic places. The Chillingham Wild Cattle can be seen in  Northumberland in northern England.

They resemble Park White and Vaynol cattle breeds but both of these are domesticated breeds.

To see the Chillingham Wild Cattle was a long term aim of mine and a visit in late October didn’t disappoint.

Other Wild Cattle

I’ve had a tantalizing glimpse of the very shy wild Gaur in Rajasthan, India. I love the white ‘socks’ it wears!

I’ve also seen the attractively marked Nguni cattle in South Africa. I rather suspect that the nguni cattle are no longer classified as truly wild.

I’ve also seen hundreds of cape buffalo in Zambia. At times, and when on foot in thick bush, I’ve been much closer to these dangerous beasts than is perhaps wise! When you’re walking in elephant grass higher than your head and you can hear animals nearby but can’t see them it’s a bit scary. But when you find steaming fresh dung on the path you’re walking it tends to raise the pulse!

 

The Chillingham Herd under threat

The Chillingham cattle can be dangerous and aggressive too and so need to be treated with great respect.

chillingham wild cattle

Chillingham wild cattle

 

These cattle have lived untouched by man for over 700 years.

However they did needed a little intervention in the horrendous winter of 1947. Then most of the herd died through starvation.

It was only the dropping of hay from aircraft into the deep snow that saved them from extinction.

Fortunately a handful survived and the herd stands at around 120 animals now.

 

The threat of culling

chillingham wild cattle cows

Chillingham wild cattle cows

The other great threat to their survival came from man rather than weather.

They were within the 5 mile radius of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Fortunately the Ministry vets who came to destroy them saw no disease symptoms.

This is highly infectious disease and controlled by humanely killing infected animals but also those nearby.

Fortunately on this occasion they were spared the marksman’s bullet!

This incident was a wake up call for the trust that cares for this unique animal.

Although frozen semen and eggs are stored, the Chillingham wild cattle would have been wiped out for ever if they had been shot.

Now there are also around 20 beasts at a secret location in the East of Scotland. This back up herd has minimized the risk of the breed being wiped out.

 

How wild are they?

chill cattle skin and bones

Chillingham wild cattle skin, skull and bones

You will hear the Chillingham wild cattle referred to as ‘beasts’. Indeed they are not to be messed with!

The master bull can be extremely aggressive.

Although our guide took us within the vast walled parkland in which they are live, we always kept our eyes on the bulls! We were on foot but we always kept a safe away from these wild cattle.

Bulls have large forward pointing horns which they use to gore each other. But they will also gore anyone who approaches too closely!

The master bull will fight any challenging bull for the right to mate with the cows. Consequently deaths are not uncommon.

It was a privilege to see these Chillingham wild cattle up close.

To put things into context, there are less of these beast than there are giant pandas left in the world!

If you would like to find out more about these rare cattle or perhaps support their survival there’s more here.

If you enjoyed reading this you might also enjoy reading my blog on a small boat wildlife cruise of the Alaskan Inside Passage here.

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