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Artiodactyls and steep slopes, and a new banner for Tet Zoo

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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While on fieldwork recently, I got to see something that I considered pretty remarkable. A series of loud, weird shrieks alerted us to the presence of a large mammal. It emerged from foliage on the side of an impossibly steep cliff and proceeded to clamber up the slope without much difficulty.  Pretty impressive. Here’s what it looked like, as seen from the other side of the valley. I’ve marked the animal with a red circle.

I don’t own a good camera, but I zoomed in as much as I could, and here’s a closer look as the animal stopped and peered back at us…

The animal – which is an artiodactyl of some sort – isn’t difficult to identify, but what do you think it is? I will say that the photos were taken in Europe. As usual, Tet Zoo dollars and emotional fulfillment to those who succeed in guessing.  The vertical clambering behaviour isn’t rare or novel – you can see animals of this sort doing it any day of the week, in many locations and habitats worldwide – but it’s still impressive. An ordinary person would not consider, or find, the successful and rapid surmounting of such a steep slope an easy thing to accomplish, and remember that the average person probably assumes that a hoofed mammal is less able to climb a steep, dangerous cliff-side than is a person.

And while I’m here: hopefully, you’ve noticed by now that Tet Zoo has a new banner. The previous one (shown here) was very much provisional and merely a badly cropped version of the long, strip-like banner prepared specially for Tet Zoo ver 2. That stupid blank space at top left was there because I originally wanted to include the words as shown here, but that’s not consistent with SciAm style, so a blank space was the result (yeah, it was done in a real hurry). Seeing as we’re saying goodbye to it now, I’ll briefly discuss some of things shown in the cropped version you see here. The dinosaur reconstruction is of Eotyrannus; parts of Dougal Dixon’s After ManThe Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals, and Naish and Martill’s Dinosaur of the Isle of Wight are visible; frozen long-eared bats, shrews, finches and wrens are visible at bottom right; there are photos of an Asian elephant and phorusrhacid skull; and a collection of toy dendrobatid frogs and a sparrowhawk skull are visible upper-centre. So, I’ve long planned to have a new banner produced. The new one (it went live a few days ago) was created by Andrea Kőszegi (find her on facebook at Andyka Art). I’m very happy with it – dinosaurs ancient and modern, a squamate, a frog, and one of my favourite synapsids. Thank you Andy! Those looking for the production of excellent, colourful bespoke artwork might consider contacting her.

Coming soon: the ‘tree-kangaroos come first’ hypothesis.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Dartian 5:43 am 10/14/2011

    That’s a female roe deer Capreolus capreolus. Photographed in Roe-mania, surely?

    Regarding the new banner; it’s nice, but shouldn’t there have been a babirusa on it too?

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  2. 2. welsh peregrine 7:07 am 10/14/2011

    Or a male roe deer ouside the antler-sporting season! Sorry, Western Roe Deer if you slit Capreolus

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  3. 3. welsh peregrine 7:24 am 10/14/2011

    Needless to say, I meant “split”; slitting is probably illegal!

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  4. 4. DMA12 8:33 am 10/14/2011

    That is clearly a flightless ropen. More seriously, probably a roe deer. Where was this taken.

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  5. 5. DMA12 8:34 am 10/14/2011

    Sorry. Forgot the question mark.

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  6. 6. Andreas Johansson 11:26 am 10/14/2011

    I’d said roe deer, so it’s slightly worrying that the knowledgeable folks above say the same.

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  7. 7. vdinets 11:38 am 10/14/2011

    Female roe deer (a male would have slightly different proportions).
    The ability to scale steep slopes in Artiodactyla is much more common than most people realize. I’ve seen water buffalo grazing on near-vertical, heavily overgrown slopes where a serow would look much more in place. I wonder if a paleontologist would be able to infer such abilities from fossils if Artiodactyla were extinct.

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  8. 8. puppygod 11:52 am 10/14/2011

    Sigh, too late again. Yup, I’d said roe deer too.

    How are roe deer related to roe-pens?

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  9. 9. DMA12 12:06 pm 10/14/2011

    @ puppygod.

    How are krakens related to shonisaurus.

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  10. 10. Jerzy New 1:44 pm 10/14/2011

    Even hippos and elephants climb daily similar steep riverbanks in Murchison Falls NP. They even made whole paths going vertically up.

    There is an interesting set of photos on the internet of a wild hippo chasing an African man who didn’t believe it.

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  11. 11. Jerzy New 1:50 pm 10/14/2011


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  12. 12. OwnerOfATemporarilyLonelyHeart 3:07 pm 10/14/2011

    Roe deer is the obvious answer, but I don’t know.

    Just to continue the “How are x related to y” trend…
    How are ropens related to raw pants?

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  13. 13. Mythusmage 4:45 pm 10/14/2011

    It’s a highly derived remnant gorgonopsian.

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  14. 14. Yodelling Cyclist 4:56 pm 10/14/2011

    Oh damn, Mythusmage beat me to it!

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  15. 15. JennDeland 5:18 pm 10/14/2011

    New banner? I think I am still seeing the old one. In Google Chrome.

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  16. 16. naishd 6:26 pm 10/14/2011

    If you’re still seeing the old banner you might need to delete your cache and refresh. And – good work on the ropen and gorgonopsian jokes :)

    ps – is anyone else really impressed with the manual and pedal flexion displayed by that running hippo? Gregory Paul would be proud.


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  17. 17. naishd 6:31 pm 10/14/2011

    And I may as well come clean now and say that, yes, the animal is a female Roe deer observed in Romania (ha ha, “Roe-mania”). Well done Dartian and the others who said this – not exactly difficult though. Her fawn was left hiding in a dense patch of woodland in the bottom of the valley. The Roe I’m used to seeing are normally duller in colour; less orangey.


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  18. 18. Christopher Taylor 6:41 pm 10/14/2011

    @DMA12 in # 9: So what you’re saying is, roe deer hunt down ropens, tear them apart and feast on their flesh, then use the remaining bones to create macabre self-portraits. These portraits are never recognised as what they are by humans because (a) the transparent nature of ropen bones means they are rarely spotted by those without the y-ray vision of roe deer, and (b) for all their pretensions, roe deer have absolutely no sense of composition.

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  19. 19. DMA12 7:42 pm 10/14/2011


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  20. 20. Spugpow 1:02 am 10/15/2011

    Thought I’d randomly share a nice, tetrapod-y video I found.

    Go rhino, go!

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  21. 21. Frits B 10:54 am 10/15/2011

    With a name like Capreolus, a roe deer’s climbing abilities should not come as a surprise.

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  22. 22. llewelly 8:38 pm 10/16/2011

    I don’t understand why a deer navigating a steep slope easily is supposed to be surprising. I thought the climbing abilities of deer were well-known.

    If you wanted to pick an artiodactyl that often surprised people with its climbing ability, I’d have thought there were many better options, my favorite being the aforementioned hippo. Another possibility would be the bison, whose climbing ability occasionally surprises tourists.

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  23. 23. naishd 4:21 am 10/17/2011

    llewelly: I think this is one of those things that’s familiar if it’s familiar to you, and surprising if it’s surprising to you. In my experience, most people (including a significant percentage of my readers) would consider it surprising :) More importantly, I have photos of a climbing Roe deer that I wanted to use – I don’t have photos to hand of climbing hippos or bison. If anyone does I’m certainly very interested.


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  24. 24. falcon121 7:43 pm 10/17/2011

    Artiodaccyls climbing steep slopes … it sounds like one of those things that everyone shoud know and doesnt ,,, though the climbing bison and speedster hippos would give anyone a surprise. This might be a bit off-topic but doesnt this make the case of fast-running large theropods and hadrosaurs look plausible?

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  25. 25. WillemvanderMerwe 2:25 pm 10/18/2011

    To me this is quite interesting Darren. And I want to thank Spugpow for the running rhino calf video! Our rhinos need a lot of help …

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  26. 26. farandfew 9:37 am 10/20/2011

    For all those people who are not surprised at people being surprised that artiodactyls can climb steep slopes I’ll tell you that, as someone who goes searching for artiodactyls in an area with a lot of steep slopes, people are very surprised – nay incredulous at this undeniable fact. So much so that it’s nice to see a picture like this one to stop me doubting my own sanity.
    If I had a pound for every time a student, accompanying me to the forest, said ‘there’s no way it would have gone up there I’d have – well – about a fiver. But that’s because not that many students have gone to the forest with me. Because of all the steep slopes.

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  27. 27. Gary Hurd 1:41 am 10/21/2011


    I had wondered where you had wandered off to since your personal blog “Tetrapod Zoology,” and then ScienceBlogs.

    Now SiAm.

    Best wishes,

    G. Hurd

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