Besides these two species and the zebu, the yak, the gayal, and the arni (3/47. Isid. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 'Hist. Nat. Gen.' tome 3, 96.) (not to mention the buffalo or genus Bubalus) have been domesticated; making altogether six species of Bos. The zebu and the two European species are now extinct in a wild state. Although certain races of cattle were domesticated at a very ancient period in Europe, it does not follow that they were first domesticated here. Those who place much reliance on philology argue that they were imported from the East. (3/48. Idem tome 3 pages 82, 91.) It is probable that they originally inhabited a temperate or cold climate, but not a land long covered with snow; for our cattle, as we have seen in the chapter on Horses, have not the instinct of scraping away the snow to get at the herbage beneath. No one could behold the magnificent wild bulls on the bleak Falkland Islands in the southern hemisphere, and doubt about the climate being admirably suited to them. Azara has remarked that in the temperate regions of La Plata the cows conceive when two years old, whilst in the much hotter country of Paraguay they do not conceive till three years old; "from which fact," as he adds, "one may conclude that cattle do not succeed so well in warm countries." (3/49. 'Quadrupedes du Paraguay' tome 2 page 360.)

Bos primigenius and longifrons have been ranked by nearly all palaeontologists as distinct species; and it would not be reasonable to take a different view simply because their domesticated descendants now intercross with the utmost freedom. All the European breeds have so often been crossed both intentionally and unintentionally, that, if any sterility had ensued from such unions, it would certainly have been detected. As zebus inhabit a distant and much hotter region, and as they differ in so many characters from our European cattle, I have taken pains to ascertain whether the two forms are fertile when crossed. The late Lord Powis imported some zebus and crossed them with common cattle in Shropshire; and I was assured by his steward that the cross-bred animals were perfectly fertile with both parent-stocks. Mr. Blyth informs me that in India hybrids, with various proportions of either blood, are quite fertile; and this can hardly fail to be known, for in some districts (3/50. Walther 'Das Rindvieh' 1817 s. 30.) the two species are allowed to breed freely together. Most of the cattle which were first introduced into Tasmania were humped, so that at one time thousands of crossed animals existed there; and Mr. B. O'Neile Wilson, M.A., writes to me from Tasmania that he has never heard of any sterility having been observed. He himself formerly possessed a herd of such crossed cattle, and all were perfectly fertile; so much so, that he cannot remember even a single cow failing to calve. These several facts afford an important confirmation of the Pallasian doctrine that the descendants of species which when first domesticated would if crossed have been in all probability in some degree sterile, become perfectly fertile after a long course of domestication. In a future chapter we shall see that this doctrine throws some light on the difficult subject of Hybridism.

I have alluded to the cattle in Chillingham Park, which, according to Rutimeyer, have been very little changed from the Bos primigenius type. This park is so ancient that it is referred to in a record of the year 1220. The cattle in their instincts and habits are truly wild. They are white, with the inside of the ears reddish-brown, eyes rimmed with black, muzzles brown, hoofs black, and horns white tipped with black. Within a period of thirty-three years about a dozen calves were born with "brown and blue spots upon the cheeks or necks; but these, together with any defective animals, were always destroyed." According to Bewick, about the year 1770 some calves appeared with black ears; but these were also destroyed by the keeper, and black ears have not since reappeared. The wild white cattle in the Duke of Hamilton's park, where I have heard of the birth of a black calf, are said by Lord Tankerville to be inferior to those at Chillingham. The cattle kept until the year 1780 by the Duke of Queensberry, but now extinct, had their ears, muzzle, and orbits of the eyes black.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V1 Page 54

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book