The Story of the Fallow Deer: An Exotic Aspect of British Globalisation

Simon Canaval1

Fallow deer have a long history of semi-domestication by humans. In antiquity they spread within Europe, and were associated with various cults of the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. After the Romans left Britain, fallow deer became extinct on the island, but they were reintroduced by the Normans in the eleventh century. Due to the increase of the population in Britain during the late twelfth century, which caused enormous pressure on settlement areas and game species, keeping deer in enclosures became popular. During the European expansion of the nineteenth century, deer were introduced into many British colonies.

This article argues that the introduction of fallow deer in the British colonies of Australia and New Zealand can only be understood if we take a look at what Fernand Braudel called the longue durée, at centuries of British hunting culture and the special role of fallow deer within this context. This close connection of nature and culture made fallow deer an important part of British hunting culture and a desirable object for acclimatisation.


Of approximately 160 huntable hoofed animals in the world, listed by Werner Trense in his book The Big Game of the World, around fifty had their range extended by humans – mostly in the nineteenth century in association with European expansion.2 Among these animals, deer played an especially important role, according to their cultural importance and the numbers translocated. As the translocation of big animals called for considerable financial input, and included the catching, shipping and release of wild animals, the protagonists were primarily members of the royal class, other landlords, and Paul Star’s ‘biota barons’ – people involved in the translocation of plants and animals within the (British) Empire.3

One of the longest-standing reasons for the translocation of animals was their utility as gifts, as with the shipment of eight chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) from Austria to New Zealand in 1907, a gift from the Austrian emperor Franz-Joseph, which formed the basis of today’s stock of chamois in New Zealand.4 But economic aspects could also be a motive. When space for profitable sheepfarming became scarce in Europe during the nineteenth century, Ferdinand Friedrich, the Duke of Anhalt-Köthen, agreed to an offer from Tsar Nicholas I and moved with his flock to today’s southern Ukraine, where they founded the colony of Askania Nova. Within this area the Duke’s family not only managed to build up a successful sheep farm, but also to import animals like zebras, antelopes and even some examples of the nearly extinct Przewalski horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), which were bred with success.5,6

The breeding and allocation of game species was of outstanding importance to the gentry. Wild animals were kept for hunting, or simply as a symbol of wealth and luxury. One well-known aristocrat, Herbrand Arthur Russell, the eleventh Duke of Bedford, kept over forty different species of deer on his Woburn estate. He is held responsible for the survival of the last specimen of Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus), but also shipped various deer species to the colonies in Australasia. 7,8,9,10

Other important protagonists in the globalisation of game species in the nineteenth century were members of the ambitious, imperialistic upper class of Britain. People like Cecil Rhodes, followed the example of the gentry, conducting their own translocations and acclimatisations of deer and other useful animals in the colonies.11 Lastly, the rise of zoos and circuses in the western world, where people wished to see exotic animals, promoted the formation of a new business, the ‘international animal trade’, conducted by English and German tradesmen like Carl Hagenbeck.12

Regardless of the different motives for translocation, the globalisation of the nineteenth century was a huge success for some of the translocated deer species. Those which proved profitable and able to survive in a new environment (red and fallow deer) could increase their numbers exponentially, while other (‘not globalised’) species (like the South Andean Deer or the Barasingha deer) were the losers in this development. In fact, globalisation brought them close to extinction, rather than increasing their numbers as human activities increased.13

Today, out of the 42 million hoofed game animals, 1.5 to 2 million live in places where they would not exist without human intervention. Among these the European red deer (Cervus elaphus) is undoubtedly the most prevalent species with over 1 million globalised specimens. The second most important is the European fallow deer (Dama dama) with about 150,000 specimens. This article presents a concise history of the cultural connections of the fallow deer with mankind and summarises the developments that led to the globalisation of this species in the nineteenth century.

The history of the fallow deer in Europe up to the nineteenth century

Today most scientists agree that deer evolved in Asia and spread from there to different parts of the world.14 The fallow deer itself is nowadays divided into two different subspecies, the European fallow deer (Dama dama dama) and the Mesopotamian fallow deer (Dama dama mesopotamica).15 Recent specimens of Dama dama show a high phenotypic variation (e.g. in coat colour), but have a remarkably low genotypic variability, which is explained by early selective breeding and a ‘bottleneck-effect’ that occurred during their history.16 This effect describes the reduction of different gene alleles within a gene pool, which is evident when only a few individuals of a species survive, resulting in a loss of genetic variability.17

The most remarkable features of the fallow deer are its planar antlers that are shed annually.18 During summer the fallow deer wears an auburn coat with white spots that is changed in winter for an inconspicuous, dark grey to brown coat.19 Their diet consists mainly of leaves, branches and pasture.20 The favourite habitats of the fallow deer are deciduous forests or steppe areas with a mild climate.21 As fallow deer are able to browse even lignified growth, they tend to harm young forests.22

Fallow deer can adapt to a wide variety of habitats, but do not commonly live in high altitude areas, or other regions with long snowy winters, where snow might restrict access to grass.23,24 The last ice age in Central Europe, some 20,000 years ago, during which the ice shields of the mountains were surrounded by vast, snowy tundras, must have led to the extinction of fallow deer in Central Europe.25

Dama dama bones found at human settlements from the period 4600-1900 B.C. indicate that fallow deer were hunted by humans for several thousand years.26 It was also quite common to keep fallow deer in enclosures or parks. Due to their nature, their appealing appearance and their sociable behaviour within the pride, fallow deer were ideal for captive breeding.27

Even before the Nativity, fallow deer were kept as sacrificial animals by Egyptians and within various Mesopotamian civilisations.28 Among the Phoenicians, fallow deer were sacrificed to Baal-Hammon, their God of Fertility, while for the Greeks they were important sacrificial animals to their goddess Artemis.29,30 Due to this early denotation in the Mediterranean area, fallow deer spread to areas in today’s Italy, Southern France, Northern Africa and Western Spain.31 The Romans, the cultural descendants of the Greeks, incorporated the goddess Artemis into their cult of Diana. This led to a further spread of the fallow deer into many parts of Europe.32

A research group, led by Prof. Sykes (University of Nottingham), has recently proved that the Romans brought fallow deer as far north as Britain, where some specimens were even bred and reared.33 With the fall of the Roman Empire, this tradition was mostly forgotten. At least in Britain we find no evidence for enclosures or for the fallow deer itself after this time.34

The reintroduction of the fallow deer in Britain was probably conducted in the eleventh century by the Normans. Traces of this Norman heritage are still present. It is said, for instance, that the English ‘Tally ho!’ is derived from the Norman hunting call ‘Thiaulau’, used to report the sighting of a stag.35 Furthermore, zooarchaeologists recognise a turning-point in the hunting tradition of Britain at this time.36 Especially at excavations of the new elite they found a shift from bones of domesticated animals to wild animals (roe, red and fallow deer) starting in the eleventh century.37

It is now supposed that the Normans brought the fallow deer from their newly-acquired holdings in Sicily, which were conquered in the same decades (A.D. 1061-1091). Paradoxically the fallow deer is not suitable for the so-called hunting par force that was favoured by the Normans, due to its tendency to build flocks and its low stamina. Consequently the fallow deer was primarily killed using a bow and arrow, as remnants of arrows within fallow deer-bones indicate.38

While in the Early Middle Ages the elite called for the clearance of forests in Europe, these forests had to be protected by law, to restrict the use of a resource greatly needed by a growing population.39 In many areas, forests now became primarily recreational areas belonging to the king.40 For example the Norman rulers turned vast areas of Britain into areas with restricted easement, which could be given to the nobility.41 Locking up wild game in enclosures or parks within these forests had various advantages for the gentry. Firstly, it was easier to control the number and habitation of the animals. Secondly, it was more convenient for a possible relocation of the stock; and last but not least the game could serve as a ‘larder’ for the nobility.42

The containment and restriction of areas for hunting (which were called foresta) helped to make the hunt an elite phenomenon, a chance for people to prove their social supremacy and a way to show their fighting skills.43 Fallow deer, with their ‘flocksiness’ and their familiarity towards humans, were better suited to breeding than other forms of deer. This led to an enormous rise in the number of ‘deer parks’ in medieval England, where by about 1300 there were more than 3000 parks recorded.44

The great importance of the royal hunt turned this exercise into a pastime for the secular and the clerical nobility, signifying high social rank. The gentry were now more likely to move to rural areas, especially close to the forests. Here they could follow the royal example, by hunting different animals. But whereas the hunt par force was normally used to cull red deer (and required vast areas of land for the chase), fallow deer were mostly hunted within the parks. This ‘drive hunt’ became increasingly popular in Britain during the medieval period, and was especially associated with the concept of wild parks. ‘Bow and stable hunting, perfect for parks, was said to be a “way of life” in late fourteenth-century England.’45

British expansion and globalisation of the fallow deer in the nineteenth century

The nineteenth century brought new possibilities of transportation (shipping and rail) and other technological inventions (such as the telegraph) that made the world appear smaller. In the era of imperialism the penetration of the world by European colonial powers reached a new level.46 Even though the naturalisation and breeding of foreign plant and animal species was not particularly a phenomenon of the nineteenth century, and had in fact been practised over many years, the modern age showed a revolutionary, global characteristic in the translocation of species through the so-called ‘acclimatisation’ movement. Already in the eighteenth century physiocrats and natural scientists were engaging in the breeding of exotic species. During the nineteenth century the worldwide distribution and acclimatisation of useful plants and animals became a major concern of the natural sciences.47 It was never really clear whether acclimatisation meant plants adapting to a new environment, naturalisation of the species in a colony, or just breeding exotic species somewhere else. Even the presence of ‘whites’ in the tropical climate of the colonies was seen as a human version of acclimatisation.48

The main players in acclimatisation were the colonial powers of Britain and France. In France the movement developed in Paris, while within the British Empire it became more a phenomenon of the periphery of Australasia than in Britain itself. Many of the early supporters of acclimatisation in France were followers of Lamarck and believed that animals and plants were able to adapt gradually to a new environment. Acclimatisers like Frank Buckland were convinced that God had provided Europe with many useful species and they thought it their duty to spread these species around the world.49 The Zeitgeist of the nineteenth century supported the belief that humans (and especially Europeans) were meant to transform nature according to their own will and needs.

The arrival of European animals and plants in colonies was another success story. The historian Alfred Crosby even went so far as to explain the supremacy of the European settlers by reference to a certain set of cultivated plants and domesticated animals, which enabled them to become ‘the rulers of the world’.50 According to Crosby, the ancient co-evolution of humans and animals in Europe and the exchange of pathogens made their immune system more fit for the conquest of the ‘New World’.51

This ‘ecological imperialism’, as Crosby described it, enforced the development of a distinct European sentiment of superiority which validated their actions.52 The principle of ‘survival of the fittest’, raised by the British sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer, fitted perfectly into a world that was conquered not just by a supreme western civilisation, but also dominated by European nature.53 Capture of exotic animals like African giraffes or Bengal tigers and their exhibition in Europe stood symbolically for the subjugation and enslavement of the world. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century a new industry of German and British animal merchants evolved, shipping living animals from all over the world to zoos and circuses at home. Within the big game hunt in the colonies the ‘great white hunter’ evolved as a stereotype of European imperialism.55

The flagship of European expansion was the British Empire. At the height of its power it controlled nearly a quarter of the world and ruled more than 500 million people – a quarter of the world’s population at that time.56 During the phases of conquest associated with imperialism, the British – like every other colonial power – brought with them a certain set of animals and plants and declared some local species to be vermin or pests. They encouraged the spread of ‘English’ trees, birds, fish and mammals, for economic, but also for ‘aesthetical-conservative’ reasons.57 In fact many of these species arrived via other British colonies (like India) to Australia and New Zealand or were not even of European origin and were primarily ‘English’ only in the eyes of the British settlers. This seems to challenge Crosby’s concept of a European ‘ecological imperialism’.58

Hunting game animals was part of the British cultural heritage and was also practised in the colonies. Especially in North America the hunt became part of everyday life, a way to acquire meat or fur and a possible way to make money.59 But not all parts of the British Empire were – like North America, India or Africa – blessed with a variety of large mammals to hunt. The loss of the American colonies at the end of the eighteenth century was a bitter setback for Great Britain, but was compensated for by increasing engagement in Australasia.60


During the expedition of 1769–1770, James Cook claimed Australia for the British crown by right of the concept of terra nullius.61 Even though it was obvious that Australia was different from Britain, and that its climate and vegetation were not suitable for European agriculture, a settlement founded on the principles of British agriculture was set up there. Some early Europeans believed that the plantation of trees would help to store more water in the soil and therefore address the shortage of both water and wood. Serious droughts were declared exceptional; optimism was the order of the day. Especially in the period after 1850, by which time the fertile areas in the south-east were already populated, the colonists increasingly confronted the geographical limits beyond which their agricultural practices would not succeed. Successive attempts to colonise the inland failed miserably. The ‘boosters’ experienced the limited power of humans contending with an unpredictable climate.62

The discovery of gold in the nineteenth century led to thousands of Europeans racing to try their luck in Australia. The arid climate and the scarce vegetation made introduced merino sheep a dominant factor in Australian agriculture and the export of wool became an important source of income for the whole continent.63 Australia was ‘living off the sheep’s back’.64

The first European settlers also relied on hunting native game like birds. These animals were hunted by all groups of the population, sometimes to an extreme level that brought them close to extinction.65 Among the immigrants there were also representatives of the British nobility, who introduced a culture of British hunting. With the establishment of hunting by horse, the question of suitable objects for the hunt emerged. In the first half of the nineteenth century people had started to prey on the flightless emu or on dingoes; in later periods they also hunted kangaroos, and foxes introduced from Britain.66 However, by the middle of the nineteenth century, people started to demand the introduction of ‘real deer’: ‘Australian animals were not “sporting” because they lacked the cultural associations that would embed the act of killing them in a familiar context’.67 The importation of red fox was cold comfort for those who were used to hunting red deer in the Scottish Highlands, as Thomas Dunlap has noted:

In Australia we would have a kangaroo standing in for the stag … and Great Dividing Range for the Scottish hills. This will not do. The stag looks noble because of centuries of myth, story, and association have made it so. To the settlers, if not the Aborigines, the kangaroo just looked odd … The Anglos may, over generations, incorporate Australian animals into their culture and find in hunting them a connection to the land, but at the time they could only import deer and look to the aristocratic model of gentlemanly sport.68

The heyday of the importation of deer was the period from 1860 to 1880, when most of today’s deer stocks in Australia were established. Altogether more than twenty different species and subspecies of deer were imported, though today only six of them remain in noteworthy numbers.69 Among the introduced game species there were red deer from England, but also sambar, Indian hog deer and chital deer from India.70 Of these, sambar became numerically the most important of all introduced deer species in Australia.71

From the beginning of the nineteenth century, individuals imported animals like the fallow deer on their own behalf.72 In Australia and other colonies zoological societies started in the 1860s to call themselves acclimatisation societies, among which the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria in Melbourne was the most popular. Its most prominent member was Edward Wilson, whose association with the movement coincided with its zenith. Acclimatisation societies were sponsored by donations and by fees from their members. Sometimes government contributed a share, but this declined when governments stopped supporting importations at the end of the nineteenth century.73 The members were landlords, farmers, scientists, politicians and magistrates – all brought together by a common interest in the acclimatisation of new species. Acclimatisation societies took over the importation of game animals like deer into Australia.74 The real globalisation of fallow deer can therefore be said to have started in nineteenth-century Australia, when the gentry, landlords and acclimatisation societies began their introduction.

This endeavour was an outstanding success on the island of Tasmania, which became the bridgehead of the colonisation of fallow deer in Australasia.75 Even before the Tasmanian Acclimatisation Society was able to start importing, species had been introduced there by individuals like James Cox.76 The first fallow deer arrived in 1836. Stocks bred so successfully that many other herds in Australia and New Zealand were founded from Tasmanian specimens.77 Despite the rough climate the Tasmanian population grew to about 600–800 in 1863, which ultimately led to conflicts with farmers.78 A 1975 report wrote of more than 8000 fallow deer living on the island.79

On mainland Australia the first attempts to settle fallow deer were made in the 1840s. The south-east (including New South Wales) proved to be especially suitable, with a climate similar to the English homeland.80 A regular annual fall of rain, and the temperature and the landscape that was formed by this climate, may have acted as a motivation:

Such a habitat is reminiscent of an English deer park, except for the species of plants present, and may have promoted the early settlers to introduce deer for aesthetic reasons as well as for sport.81

Arriving on the continent, fallow deer were brought to markets like Kirk’s Bazaar in Melbourne and were available for purchase by landlords and great landowners for their deer parks. Later on, acclimatisation societies started to introduce fallow deer, as in 1863, when fallow deer was imported from Tasmania by the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria and successfully established.82 The herds of this species in North Queensland around Cairns are indicative of their great adaptability. Fallow deer were introduced there in 1865 and the population has thrived up to the present day, despite the tropical climate.83,84

The introduction of deer was always controversial among settlers of lesser means who simply did not benefit from the presence of deer. For them, deer were primarily vermin which harmed their crops. To save the acclimatised species from extermination, they had to be protected by ‘Game Acts’, issued on behalf of the acclimatisation societies.85

Deer hunting was generally organised by hunting clubs and conducted on private ground. Up to the twentieth century hunts were not open to the public and were restricted to landlords and their guests. Around the time of the Great War, damage to crops caused by deer increased and the authorities started to allow culling.86

Laws for hunting game species differed in Australia from province to province. The legislation of Victoria is especially well documented and can serve as an example of the later status of the fallow deer in Australia.87 From 1862 deer and other exotic wild species were protected in Victoria by the first Victorian Game Act, whereas native game had to be spared during a certain season. It was an ‘Act to Provide for the Preservation of Imported Game, and during the Breeding Season for Native Game’. Consequent amendments gave some imported species the status of pests. Some native animals were nearly hunted to extinction before legislative protection included them from around the end of the nineteenth century.88

In the 1930s, interest in hunting as a sport increased, almost leading to the extinction of several fallow deer populations in Victoria. With the Wildlife Act of 1975 deer hunting in the wild was banned year-round; for fallow deer the season was closed in 1976. In spite of relatively few individual fallow deer being introduced to Victoria, these animals increased in number until culled by farmers. Due to competition for space the fallow deer in Victoria still received protection all-year-round at the end of the nineteenth century.89

While the fallow deer of Australia was struggling with the extreme climate and competition against humans for fertile ground, New Zealand presented a contrasting situation in terms of the species’ reception and management.

New Zealand

New Zealand was one of the few places in the world spared from human influence for a long period. With the arrival of the Maori around 1300, a new era of anthropogenic transformation of nature began.90 This accelerated after European settlers arrived in ever-greater numbers, following the formal colonisation of the islands by Britain in 1840. Even the first settlers realised that it would not be possible to live a ‘decent European life’ without the importation of familiar plants and animals. Dogs and cats as pets, horses and oxen as load carriers, possums for the fur industry, fruit trees, bumblebees for pollination, birds for insect control – an almost endless list of introduced species and motives characterised the environmental transformation undertaken by settlers at this early stage of New Zealand’s colonisation.91

Altogether the Europeans successfully brought 54 mammal species to New Zealand, most of them in the second half of the nineteenth century. These animals had the advantage that local competitors generally did not exist; New Zealand lacked most of the predators that could have maintained a balanced ecosystem. The New Zealand environment was not prepared for such an invasion of exotic species. Carolyn King observes that: ‘This invasion was the last and clearest example of the processes of “ecological imperialism” by which European influence had been expanding round the world during the previous 200 years’.92

The absence of any indigenous terrestrial mammals was also an issue for the introduced British hunting culture. Many immigrants were excited about the opportunities New Zealand offered in terms of hunting, which in the early days of colonisation meant chasing after native birds or feral pigs.93 Soon settlers, like John Godley in 1850, founder of the Canterbury settlement, spoke of the possibility of introducing deer. In 1857 Charles Hursthouse’s guidebook for future settlers of New Zealand stated:

A serious proposal for the introduction of game into New Zealand may be derided by some as speculation … But, in truth, the introduction of game into New Zealand might well be attended with social and even pecuniary benefits … We don’t go to New Zealand with pick and pan, to snatch dear-won nuggets, gulp gallons of rum, and then rich or ragged hurry home. We go to the ‘Britain of the South’ to create an estate, raise a home wherein to anchor fast and plant our household goods … No man can better deserve … a day’s pastime than a New Zealand colonist.94

McDowall, however, suggests that the importation of deer into New Zealand had an unusual social significance. Many emigrants left Britain to escape overcrowding, poverty and an inherited low social position. It seemed as if in New Zealand it was possible to establish a new egalitarian society, still based on the British model, but with greater opportunity to scale the social ladder. Not birth, but rather the possession of money should determine a colonist’s position within society. In this country a ‘normal man’ could – by buying a hunting licence – chase after deer which at that time in Britain were still reserved for the upper classes. The practice of the hunt, once the symbol of social supremacy, played an important role in overcoming a social rank that was predetermined at birth.

Due to a lack of alternatives and a high demand for huntable game species, it is not surprising that, even before the establishment of acclimatisation societies, the introduction of deer was executed on an individual basis. Up to the 1870s the activities of the societies with regard to deer remained relatively insignificant, compared to importations by rich landlords or politicians like Sir George Grey.95 Later in the second half of the nineteenth century the influence of these societies increased and so did their involvement in the introduction of game species into New Zealand.

In no other region of the British Empire did the acclimatisation societies reach such a large number or assume such importance as in New Zealand. These societies brought together people interested in acclimatisation, mostly the ‘Who’s Who’ of each province. Many of them were already involved in attempts to acclimatize animals and had good connections at ‘Home’ in Britain.96

David Yerex has described a division within New Zealand society. On the one side, there were the ‘simple’ farmers, factory workers and other members of the labouring class, who sometimes ran into debt to buy their ticket to New Zealand. For this group a return to Great Britain was out of question. Consequently it would seem logical for them to associate more readily with their new environment and with New Zealand nature. The lower class showed little interest in the importation of deer and spent their time hunting native birds. On the other side, wealthier migrants maintained close connections with their home country and wanted to use hunting to establish an ‘English atmosphere’ in New Zealand.97

Gradually the New Zealand government also developed a greater interest in the introduction and acclimatisation of game species. Here we should mention Thomas Donne, at that time founder and head of the Department of Tourism and Health. Donne, a passionate hunter himself, achieved subsidisation by the government for the import of deer in the early twentieth century.98 The economic interests of the government now supplemented the ideological motives of wealthy migrants.99 The possibility of hunting red and fallow deer in New Zealand, it was hoped, would attract rich tourists and immigrants:

the sport … is inducing a very large number of overseas visitors to spend weeks, and often months, annually in this country, and it plays no unimportant part in the inducement held out to the moneyed class to make their homes in New Zealand.100

The real importation of hoofed game had begun in 1851, when the first red deer were shipped to New Zealand.101 Red deer always outmatched the fallow deer in New Zealand in numbers and importance and they spread quickly over a large area of the country.102 The first fallow deer were brought in 1864 from Richmond Park in London, and were released on the South Island near Nelson. In the following decades several importations of fallow deer were conducted; the largest took place in 1877, when 28 specimens were introduced.103 Most animals came from already established stocks in New Zealand (e.g., on Motutapu Island near Auckland) or from the thriving population in Tasmania, or they were imported from Great Britain. Around 1900 Alfred Buckland, a member of the Auckland Acclimatisation Society, established a significant herd in South Kaipara.104

Besides red and fallow deer, several other species of deer were introduced to New Zealand, all of them with a lesser degree of success. There were attempts to introduce sambar deer from Sri-Lanka (1875), sika deer from England (1885), white-tailed deer (1901), thar and axis deer from India (1904/1908), wapiti and elks from Canada (1905/1910), and caribou from Norway (1908).105

Perhaps nowhere else in the world was the importation of deer so successful and so harmful to the local environment.106 Already in the nineteenth century, provisions by the authorities put introduced game species under protection. In the 1860s New Zealand’s parliament discussed the protection of introduced deer species.107 Laws like the Protection of Animals Act in 1873 helped to prevent the early demise of introduced animals.108 This changed the whole ethos around hunting, for whereas in early colonial days hunting was allowed for everyone, it now became a restricted activity.109

In the 1880s the populations of game species had increased significantly enough for different acclimatisation societies to start selling hunting licences. They also administered the hunting season and set an upper limit for the culling of deer. Culling was mostly of individual stags, whose antlers were much in demand as hunting trophies. Due to the huge demand for licences they had to be drawn to allow a fair and equal grant.110 The high demand for hunting licences led to a rise in prices. The fact that eventually only rich tourists and wealthy locals could afford to hunt, led to an increase in poaching. When the Nelson Acclimatisation Society allocated shooting right to members of their society (but only on private ground) it precipitated a storm of protest.111

But things changed quickly. The introduced fallow deer adapted quite well to the New Zealand environment and their population increased rapidly. Unlike the widespread red deer, the more sedentary fallow deer remained mostly near their original places of introduction. Increased browsing by hoofed animals put too much pressure on the trees and shrubs of New Zealand. Consequently the forests in many parts of the country could not recover and were heavily damaged by deer.112 Even before the end of the nineteenth century this development led to conflicts with farmers, who saw their crops endangered.113 The bad reputation gained by red deer for browsing on young trees soon extended to all hoofed animals.114 Whether or not destruction of the forests of New Zealand was mainly caused by deer or by human activity, the newspapers held deer responsible, seriously influencing public perception.115

As some stocks of fallow deer were developing quite well, hunting restrictions on them were withdrawn earlier than for most other species. The turning point in the level of their protection and conservation came with the ‘Deer Menace Conference’ in Christchurch in 1930. From this moment on the government removed all hunting restrictions for game species and again undertook the management of deer.116

Increasing prices for venison, velvet and deer organs in the twentieth century led to a rethink, and recreational hunting became a business. In the 1950s the government started to hunt deer in remote areas.117 With the development of culling by helicopter shooting, hundreds of thousands of specimens were removed from the rugged landscapes of New Zealand. This finally resulted in some measure of control on the number of deer on the islands.118 Public pressure led to legalisation on the breeding of deer, opening up new business opportunities by allowing red and fallow deer to be farmed like cattle.119

Today in New Zealand fallow deer are the second-most widespread game species after red deer, but they have never reached comparable numbers and distribution because of their slow rate of spread.120 Considering that up to the year 1910 only 50–60 specimens of fallow deer were imported, it is astonishing that the fallow deer population of New Zealand is nowadays one of the largest worldwide.121,122 Detailed statistics for wild fallow deer in New Zealand are not available, but there were about 24,000 specimens in enclosures alone in the year 2000.123


Evolution made the fallow deer a perfect target for semi-domestication. They are sociable and therefore ‘made’ for a life within a deer park. Since antiquity, the fallow deer was kept as a sacrificial animal, an offering to the gods of fertility and hunting. The Romans kept them in enclosures to demonstrate the victory of Roman civilisation over a barbarian wilderness. By the Middle Ages fallow deer had become an important status symbol for the nobility, even though always inferior in importance to the red deer.124 In addition, the breeding of deer provided a welcome source of food, a larder for the gentry whose position related to the hunt and to eating venison.

In the British hunting tradition, which was strongly influenced by the Normans, fallow deer were of exceptional importance. With the increase of Britain’s population in the twelfth century, the hunt par force became less important while the hunt within deer parks became popular. Associated with this hunt by ‘bow and stable’, the number of parks and the population of fallow deer increased. The fallow deer had become a central part of British hunting and therefore an important element of a noble British way of life. Its association with a high social position turned it into an appropriate animal for wider distribution and finally led to the globalisation of Dama dama in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

A comparison of the different periods of fallow deer dispersal identifies some similarities. The invasion of Britain by the Romans and the Normans as well as the British expansion into Australasia was accompanied by the introduction of fallow deer as an important part of a new culture. By restricting the hunting of these wild animals the new elites displayed their wish to establish a new social hierarchy. Fallow deer served as a symbol for the new ruling class, and in this context the introduced species served as an ‘icon of colonial dominance’.125

In the time of the Roman Empire, the fallow deer appears to have been a curiosity, kept inside the vivarium; it was an animal exchanged between the nobility within the empire – to present it in front of their villa.126 Among the Normans the fallow deer served as an object for the hunt within parks. These hunts were restricted by law to the new gentry – which underlined their importance as a symbol of social dominance.

The acclimatisation attempts of the British in the nineteenth century revealed some new facets in the history of the distribution of the fallow deer. While they also distributed the fallow deer to create a new nature, and to fashion scenery that would appeal to the common European conception of beauty, this distribution was on an unprecedented scale and brought the animals from Europe to areas like South Africa, Canada and New Zealand. The introduction of these invasive animals into alien ecosystems had profound effects on the local environment, as the New Zealand case has shown.

Within the British Empire the translocation and acclimatisation of fallow deer was primarily conducted by the ruling class, established families (e.g. the Codringtons); members of parliament; tourism department officials (e.g. T.E. Donne); and acclimatisation societies. Fallow deer played a small, but not unimportant part in their venture to transform colonies like New Zealand into a little ‘Britain in the South’.

In the twentieth century red and fallow deer acted in a way that did not fit with the perceived character of luxury items of high standard – they thrived, to the point of becoming a serious menace to the forests and to agriculture, falling out of favour with many settlers.127 This ended the era in which fallow deer served as an icon of colonial dominance, representing the establishment of a new social order. Today fallow deer are mainly the subject of commercial breeding and sport hunting tourism in New Zealand.

This article points out the importance of analysing topics of environmental history on a global and extended time scale, to look at the longue durée and to understand far-reaching implications. This should include the long history of semi-domestication of fallow deer – the facts, events and developments, which are essential to understand the importance of this deer within British hunting culture and its consequent acclimatisation outside Britain in the nineteenth century. The globalisation of the fallow deer stands symbolically for a dominant British lifestyle and was an aspect of British expansion.

[1] Simon Canaval recently completed a masters degree in history and biology at the University of Vienna, Austria, and is currently on a Fulbright scholarship at Bates College, Maine, USA. He would like to thank James Beattie and Paul Star for comment on earlier drafts of this article, and for help with translation.

[2] Werner Trense, The Big Game of the World (Hamburg and Berlin: Verlag Paul Parey, 1989).

[3] “New Zealand’s Biota Barons: Ecological Transformation in New Zealand”, Environment and Nature in New Zealand, 6.2 (November 2011): 1-12.

[4] Georg Schifko, Zu Ludwig Ritter von Höhnels, “Neuseelandaufenthalt und der Ansiedlung österreichischer Gämsen (Rupicapra rupicapra) auf Neuseeland. Aus Anlass des 100. Jahrestages der Aussetzung österreichischer Gämsen auf Neuseeland”, in Mitteilungen der Österreichischen Geographischen Gesellschaft 149 (Vienna 2007): 247.

[5] See (6 March 2014).

[6] See (6 March 2014).

[7] John Fletcher, “Deer Parks and Deer Farming in Great Britain – History and Current Status”, in Norma G. Chapman and Kristòf Hecker (Eds.), Enclosures: A Dead-end? Influence on Game Biology, Conservation and Hunting: Symposium Proceedings (Sopron, 2008), 56.

[8] Trense, The Big Game of the World, 85.

[9] See (6 March 2014).

[10] Michael Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute. (London and Munich: BLV Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 1971/1972), 192.

[11] Bernard M. Magubane, The Making of a Racist State: British Imperialism and the Union of South Africa, 1875 – 1910 (Trenton: Africa World Press, 1996), 101.

[12] Eric Ames, Carl Hagenbeck’s Empire of Entertainments (Seattle and London: Washington University Press, 2008), 3.

[13] Trense, The Big Game of the World, 283 ff.

[14] Wilfried Westheid and Gunde Rieger (Eds.), Spezielle Zoologie. Teil 2: Wirbel-oder Schädeltiere (Heidelberg: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 2010), 645.

[15] Axel Siefke and Christoph Stubbe, Das Damwild: Bejagung, Hege, Biologie (Hessian Melsungen: Neumann-Neudamm Verlag, 2008), 179.

[16] Derek Yalden, The History of British Mammals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 156.

[17] Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece, Biologie (Munich: Pearson Studium, 2002, 2006), 529 ff.

[18] Erhard Ueckermann and Paul Hansen, Das Damwild: Naturgeschichte, Hege, Jagd (Hamburg: Verlag Paul Parey, 1994), 46.

[19] Ueckermann and Hansen, Das Damwild, 50.

[20] Westheide and, Rieger, Spezielle Zoologie, 652.

[21] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 114.

[22] Ueckermann and Hansen, Das Damwild, 114.

[23] Günter Reinken, Wilhelm Hartfiel, and Eckhart Körner, Deer Farming: A Practical Guide to German Techniques (Stuttgart, 1987; Ipswich: Farming Press, 1990), 30.

[24] Donald Chapman and Norma Chapman, Fallow Deer (Lavenham, Suffolk: Lavenham Press, 1975), 68.

[25] Chapman, Fallow Deer, 43.

[26] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 182.

[27] Ueckermann and Hansen, Das Damwild, 89.

[28] Reinken, Deer Farming, 15.

[29] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 322.

[30] Wolfram Martini, “Griechische Antike“, in Peter Dinzelbacher (Ed.), Mensch und Tier in der Geschichte Europas (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 2000), 30.

[31] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 322.

[32] Reinken, Wieder-Verbreitung, Verwendung und Namensgebung des Damhirsches, 199 ff.

[33] Naomi J. Sykes, “Origins of the English Deer Park”, Deer: The Journal of the British Deer Society 15.3 (2009): 24 ff.

[34] Sykes, “Origins of the English Deer Park”: 25.

[35] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 29.

[36] Naomi J. Sykes, The Norman Conquest: A Zooarchaeological Perspective, BAR International Series 1656 (2007), 1-2.

[37] Sykes, The Norman Conquest, 66.

[38] Sykes, The Norman Conquest, 74.

[39] Joachim Radkau, Natur und Macht. Eine Weltgeschichte der Umwelt (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2002), 167.

[40] Robert P. Harrison, Wälder: Ursprung und Spiegel der Kultur (Chicago and London, & Munich and Vienna, Hanser, 1992), 90.

[41] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 31 ff.

[42] Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier, Zoo: Von der Menagerie zum Tierpark (Paris, 1998; Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 2000), 24.

[43] Sykes, The Norman Conquest, 75.

[44] Yalden, The History of British Mammals, 152-153.

[45] Stephen Mileson, Parks in Medieval England (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 25, 27, 30, 39.

[46] Matt Cartmill, Tod im Morgengrauen: Das Verhältnis des Menschen zu Natur und Jagd (London, 1993; Zürich: Artemis Verlags AG, 1993), 157-159.

[47] Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier, Zoo, 139.

[48] Michael A. Osborne, “Acclimatizing the World: A History of the Paradigmatic Colonial Science”, Osiris, 2nd Series, 15: Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise (2000): 137.

[49] Osborne, “Acclimatizing the World”: 145, 138, 147.

[50] Alfred W. Crosby, Die Früchte des weißen Mannes. Ökologischer Imperialismus 900 – 1900 (Cambridge, 1986; Frankfurt am Main and New York: Campus Verlag, 1991), 172 ff.

[51] Crosby, Die Früchte des weißen Mannes, 217 ff.

[52] Crosby, Die Früchte des weißen Mannes, 242.

[53] See (5 March 2014).

[54] Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier, Zoo, 109 ff.

[55] Cartmill, Tod im Morgengrauen, 166 ff.

[56] Ashley Jackson, The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 1.

[57] Jackson, The British Empire, 47.

[58] James Beattie, “Plants, Animals and Environmental Transformation: Indian-New Zealand Biological and Landscape Connections, 1830s-1890s”, in Vinita Damodaran and Anna Winterbottom (Eds.), The East India Company and the Natural World (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 219-248.

[59] Thomas R. Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 61.

[60] Jackson, The British Empire, 83 ff.

[61] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 184.

[62] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 73, 76, 78.

[63] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 184-187.

[64] Tom Griffith and Libby Robin (Eds.), Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies (Edinburgh and Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 66.

[65] Tony Dingle, The Victorians: Settling (Melbourne: Fairfax, Syme and Weldon Associates, 1984), 140.

[66] Arthur Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, with special reference to Victoria (Melbourne: Australian Deer Research Foundation, 1998), 199.

[67] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 65.

[68] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 65 ff.

[69] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 29.

[70] Trense, The Big Game of the World, 334 ff.

[71] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 35.

[72] Christopher Lever, They Dined on Eland: The Story of the Acclimatisation Societies (London: Quiller Press, 1992), 99.

[73] Dingle, The Victorians, 143.

[74] Lever, They Dined on Eland, 102, 100 ff.

[75] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 332.

[76] Donald Chapman and Norma Chapman, “The Distribution of Fallow Deer: A Worldwide Review”, Mammal Review, 10.2&3 (1980): 71.

[77] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 134, 133, 135.

[78] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 332.

[79] Chapman, Fallow Deer, 67.

[80] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 332.

[81] Chapman, “The distribution of fallow deer”: 69.

[82] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 259, 30.

[83] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 332.

[84] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 144.

[85] Lever, They Dined on Eland, 100f.

[86] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 189.

[87] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 193.

[88] Dingle, The Victorians, 144-146.

[89] Bentley, An Introduction to the Deer of Australia, 49 ff, 100, 103.

[90] Robert M. McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation: The Story of New Zealand’s Acclimatisation Societies 1861-1990 (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 1994), 1 ff.

[91] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 6, 9.

[92] Carolyn M. King (Ed.), The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2005), 11.

[93] Kate Hunter, Hunting: A New Zealand History (Auckland: Random House, 2009), 40.

[94] Charles Hursthouse, New Zealand, or Zealandia, The Britain of the South (London: Woodfall and Kinder, 1857), 130.

[95] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 34.

[96] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 17-18.

[97] David Yerex, Deer: The New Zealand Story (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2001), 29 ff.

[98] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 35.

[99] Yerex, Deer: The New Zealand Story, 17 ff.

[100] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 347.

[101] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 192.

[102] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 345.

[103] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 192.

[104] King, The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals, 450-452.

[105] Trense, The Big Game of the World, 343.

[106] King, The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals, 12.

[107] Hunter, Hunting, 42.

[108] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 68.

[109] Hunter, Hunting, 42 ff.

[110] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 346.

[111] Yerex, Deer: The New Zealand Story, 19.

[112] King, The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals, 457, 458.

[113] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 68.

[114] McDowall, Gamekeepers for the Nation, 349.

[115] Hunter, Hunting, 66 ff.

[116] Yerex, Deer: The New Zealand Story, 147, 34.

[117] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 258.

[118] Brander, Die Jagd von der Urzeit bis heute, 197.

[119] Dunlap, Nature and the English Diaspora, 258.

[120] L.H. Harris, “Fallow Deer”, in A.L. Poole (Ed.), Wild Animals in New Zealand (Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1970), 50.

[121] King, The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals, 452.

[122] Siefke and Stubbe, Das Damwild, 334.

[123] King, The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals, 459.

[124] Fletcher, Deer Parks and Deer Farming in Great Britain, 56.

[125] Baker, Miller, Perdikaris and Sykes, From Icon of Empire to National Emblem (forthcoming).

[126] Naomi J. Sykes, Judith White, Tina E. Hayes, and Martin R. Palmer, “Tracking Animals Using Strontium Isotopes in Teeth: The Role of Fallow Deer (Dama dama) in Roman Britain”, Antiquity 80 (2006): 955 ff.

[127] Yerex, Deer: The New Zealand Story, 29-31, 30 ff.