A British beast rarer than the panda

Chillingham Castle is home to one of the world’s last remaining herds of wild cattle, whose gene pool is so isolated that every animal is essentially a genetic clone.
“The good news is, if they charge us, you don’t have to outrun them. You just have to outrun the person next to you,” said Denene Crossley, one of the two sisters who serve as wardens of these strange and rare beasts.

Ill-tempered, unpredictable and capable of a not-exactly-leisurely top speed of 30mph, Chillingham wild cattle are not to be trifled with. Crossley and I were observing the animals from a safe distance, amid the sloping meadows and ancient oak and alder forests of Chillingham Cattle Park in Northumberland, where they have roamed free from human interference for the better part of 1,000 years.

White as snow, with sinewy frames, a fierce temperament and vast horns that curve menacingly into jet-black tips, these are no ordinary oxen. Among the last remaining wild cattle in the world, they retain a primeval character. They are also some of the rarest animals on the planet; currently numbering around 130, they are far fewer in number than giant pandas, Siberian tigers or mountain gorillas.

“Although there are about 1.2 billion cattle in the world, only very few – on a few oceanic islands, and at Chillingham – live free of human interference or management,” explained Stephen Hall, professor of animal science at the University of Lincoln and a trustee of the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association. “They are the only British breed of cattle to have escaped ‘improvement’ by selective breeding during the so-called Agricultural Revolution of approximately 200 to 300 years ago.”,50143647.html

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