The Chillingham Wild Cattle
Okay, so this is not a blog about gardening but it is about a fascinating rare wild thing; the Chillingham Wild Cattle. I recently saw these and I’ve seen other wild cattle before but those were in more exotic places than Northumbria in northern England. I’ve had a tantalising glimpse of the very shy wild Gaur in India. I’ve also seen the attractively marked Nguni cattle of Africa but I suspect that the latter are no longer classed as wild.
To see the Chillingham Wild Cattle was a long term aim of mine and a visit in late October didn’t disappoint.
These cattle have apparently lived untouched by man for over 700 years and who knows what happened before that! They did need a little intervention in the horrendous winter of 1947 when 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 now.
The next 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 symptoms of this highly infectious disease and so 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 had they been shot. Now there are also around 20 beasts at a secret location in the East of Scotland and this has spread the risk.
You will hear the Chillingham wild cattle referred to as ‘beasts’ and they are not to be messed with! The master bull can be extremely aggressive, and although our guide took us within the vast walled parkland in which they are live, we always kept an eye on the bulls!
Bulls have large forward pointing horns which they use to gore each other but also anyone who approaches too close. The master bull will fight any challenging bull for the right to mate with the cows and deaths are not uncommon.
It was a privilege to see these Chillingham wild cattle up close and, to put things into context, there are less of these beast than there are giant pandas left in the world!