February 2024: "From A New Forest Inclosure” by Ian Thew

February 2024: "From A New Forest Inclosure” by Ian Thew

Have you seen ay wolves lately? No, of course you haven’t, well, not on the Forest, I hope. But, if you are very observant and very, very lucky, whilst out on the Forest, you might just catch a fleeting glimpse of something that you would swear was a wolf. In all my time in the Forest I have seen it only twice and, before I go any further, I have to state quite categorically that on neither occasion was alcohol or any other halucinistic concoction involved!

My first sighting of this amazing phenomenon occurred a few years ago whilst I was out walking through the nearby woodland when a small group of Fallow deer came hurtling past me closely pursued by an out of control dog. Naturally, I was annoyed by this canine intrusion into our peaceful existence but as I watched the retreating deer and the gaining dog, the deer bringing up the rear and almost within reach of the slavering pooch, heeled slightly to the left as it made a change of direction and it was at that moment that I saw it!  Albeit for the briefest of moments, the mask of a wolf was clearly imprinted on the rear of the fleeing deer.  I don’t know if the dog saw it too or whether it was just coincidence but at that precise moment the undisciplined mutt turned tail and bounded off in the direction of the shouts from its owner. 

To say I was amazed would be an understatement and when I mentioned this sighting to local deer experts I was pooh-poohed and given advice such as  ‘Take more water with it’ and ‘ You should’ve gone to Specsavers’!! But to my delight and vindication I was privileged to have the same experience when, more recently and accompanied by the Doting Owner of the Spoilt Pony, I was driving the Land Rover through the Inclosure when it disturbed a herd of deer that took off in haste.  As we watched the retreating deer we were both delighted to witness, for the briefest of time, a wolf mask on the rear end of the nearest deer.

You might think that these observations were just a quirk of fate or even a figment of the imagination, but I have my own theory on just what exactly could be happening. The fallow deer is not an indigenous species; it is believed to have been introduced into England from Europe, by the Normans, after 1066 and all that. The wolf was widespread throughout Europe and Britain at that time and would have been a principal predator of the deer. Could it be that evolution has provided the deer with an escape mechanism whereby it can create the illusion to a pursuing wolf that it is suddenly, if momentarily, chasing one of its own?  

If you look closely at a picture of the rear end of a fallow deer you will see that it has a white rump partially surrounded by a black band which is in the shape of an inverted horseshoe.  From the top of the horseshoe extends the longest tail in all the deer species which is white with a black band running down its centre.  Now, when fully alarmed a fallow will take flight by kicking in the turbo and going like stink! The long tail extends from the body for a short distance with the remaining length angled down at about 45 degrees.  This long, angled tail with its black stripe forms, I believe, the muzzle of the wolf and the inverted horseshoe gives shape to the face of the wolf.  Whatever else happens to provide such a clear illusion is beyond me, but keep a keen eye out and you might just see it too.

Must go now before you think I’m loopy (or Lupine).

Ian Thew

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