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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   13 [December] 18661

7 Princess Terrace, | Regent’s Pk, N.W.

[Decr.] 13/66—

My dear Sir,

I only received your letter yesterday evening.2 The notice which you refer to of saigas fearless of mankind is in type, but not yet published. I will see to the insertion of it, in the No: of ‘Land & Water’ for next Saturday.3 I remember, however, that it occurs in a letter from Commander Alexey Butakoff to Sir RIMurchison, published in the 23d. Volume of the Geographical Society’s Journal.4

The pair of saigas in the Z. G. have greatly improved in appearance, & are likely to do well— they looked rather weakly on their arrival.5

A very interesting little beast just arrived is the Hyomoschus aquaticus from W. Africa, very like the Indian memmina,6 but peculiar among all existing ruminants for having the metacarpal bones (& I think the metatarsal also) separate, or not united to form a cannon-bone,—approximating to the fossil Dichobune,7 &c.

Bartlett told me that as he was going over the Gardens with a visitor who had been long in New Zealand, as they were looking at the Cassowary the bird voided about half a pint of pebbles, as is occasionally also observed of the Ostrich, Rhea, & Emeu.8 The New Zealand colonist remarked that he then understood, at once, the origin of the similar heaps of pebbles, amounting to a quart or so, that he had commonly seen in N. Zealand and the meaning of which had hitherto puzzled him. Undoubtedly they had been similarly voided by the species of Deinornis!9

The recent discovery of the complete skeletons of the “Solitaire” of Rodriguez I hear anounced for the next No. of Buckland’s paper.10

Yrs sincerely, | E. Blyth


The month is confirmed by the reference to articles forthcoming in Land and Water (see nn. 3 and 10, below). In 1866, the Saturday following 13 December was on 15 December.
Blyth’s notice appeared in Land and Water, 15 December 1866, p. 495, under his pseudonym ‘Zoophilus’. In it, Blyth referred to a report on saiga antelope found in an isolated island in the Aral Sea (see n. 4, below).
The references are to Aleksey Ivanovich Butakoff and Roderick Impey Murchison, and to Butakoff 1852. Animals that were fearless of humans interested CD, who had observed tame birds in the Falkland Islands and the Galápagos archipelago, and considered that animal species acquired instinctive timidity only after prolonged exposure to humans (Journal of researches, pp. 475–8, and Origin, p. 212).
In 1864, the Zoological Society of London purchased one saiga, which was received at the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park on 21 November (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1864): 728). Another saiga arrived there on 21 January 1865 (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1865): 856). CD may have seen the saigas when he visited the Zoological Gardens in November 1866 (see letter to Edward Blyth, 10 December [1866] and n. 2).
Blyth described Hyomoschus aquaticus (now Hyemoschus aquaticus), the water chevrotain of West Africa, as resembling Tragulus meminna, the spotted mouse-deer (a synonym of Moschiola meminna, the white-spotted chevrotain) from India and Ceylon (Blyth 1864, p. 483; see also Grzimek ed. 1972, 13: 134, 150–1). The animal arrived at the Zoological Gardens on 11 December 1866 (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1866): 619). It died in June 1867 and was dissected by William Henry Flower (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1867): 954–60).
Dichobune is an extinct genus of the order Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates), found in Europe from the mid Eocene to early Oligocene (Lambert 1985, p. 186). Hyemoschus is a genus of the sub-order Ruminantia. In all modern ruminants the bones in the feet (metapodials) are fused to form a cannon bone, although in Hyemoschus this does not occur until after maturity (Nowak 1999, 2: 1081). When Flower dissected the specimen he described it as ‘not quite full-grown’ (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1867): 955).
Abraham Dee Bartlett was superintendent of the Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park (Modern English biography). Cassowary, ostrich, rhea, and emu are all large flightless birds (ratites), which consume hard substances to aid digestion. The Zoological Society’s gardens first received a cassowary in 1857, and acquired a pair of Bennett’s cassowaries (Casuarius bennettii) in 1858.
Dinornis had four known species, including the New Zealand giant moa (D. giganteus), all of which became extinct approximately four hundred years ago (Feduccia 1996, p. 281).
The Rodriguez solitaire, Pezophaps solitaria, a relative of the dodo, became extinct on Rodriguez Island in the Indian Ocean about 1790 (EB). Francis Trevelyan Buckland was the editor of Land and Water; the article on the solitaire appeared in the issue for 15 December 1866, pp. 493–4.


Blyth, Edward. 1864. Notes on sundry Mammalia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1864): 482–86.

Butakoff, Aleksey Ivanovich. 1852. Survey of the Sea of Aral. By Commander Alexey Butakoff, of the Imperial Russian Navy. Communicated by Sir Roderick I. Murchison. [Read 13 December 1852.] Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 23 (1853): 93–101.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Feduccia, Alan. 1996. The origin and evolution of birds. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Lambert, David. 1985. The Cambridge field guide to prehistoric life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th edition. 2 vols. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Gives CD reference to case of the saiga, an antelope, fearless of man.

Reports observations by New Zealander who has seen heaps of pebbles presumably voided by Dinornis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Princess Terrace, 7
Source of text
DAR 160: 207
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4975,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14