DEER differ from other ruminants in the nature of their horns, or more properly speaking, ‘antlers,’ which with very few exceptions are present in all species. The antlers are confined to the males, except in the case of reindeer which have them in both sexes. Antlers are growths of true bone, covered while growing with a soft, sensitive skin, which contains blood-vessels and is known as ‘velvet.’ When the antler is fully grown, the supply of blood ceases, and the ‘velvet ‘peels off, leaving the hard bone exposed. Later, by absorption at the base, the antler is shed, leaving a stump on which next year’s growth is developed. With most deer the process takes place every year, and when the antlers are many-branched, as in the case of Red Deer, each year’s growth is represented by an additional point or ‘tine,’ until the antlers begin to lose points, when the stag is said ‘to go back.’
With the exception of one species in the north, Africa has no deer, nor has Australia; otherwise they are widely distributed throughout the world and the family numbers over a hundred species. To-day the largest living deer is the elk. It is found in Northern Europe and North America, where it is usually known as the moose. The American variety is the larger, and the antlers of the Alaskan race have been known to measure six feet across.
Only one species of deer has been domesticated, namely the reindeer. These animals are confined to Northern Europe and Asia, particularly Lapland, where from time immemorial they have served as beasts of burden and as a source of food. The wild caribou of North America are a closely allied species, and are famous for their annual migration, in which at one time millions of animals took part.
Next to the moose, the Red Deer of North America (which are correctly called ‘wapiti ‘not ‘elk ‘) and their allied types in Central Asia are probably the finest creatures of their kind. Tremendous animals with great spread of antlers, they make an imposing picture in their wild and native haunts.