The Fallow Deer of Rhodes

Considered for many years one of the island’s symbols, the Rhodian Fallow Deer, which inhabit the forests and form part of the island’s legends, is one of the few European species of deer that have survived until today. Gracing the entrance to the city’s old harbour, each atop a column, stand two bronze deer atop col, one buck and one doe. There are many folk tales about how the deer came to be found on the island. Many argue that they were introduced to Rhodes with the arrival of the Crusaders, a theory which is supported by historical evidence.

In ancient texts Rhodes was sometimes referred to as Ophiousa, a word meaning having lots of snakes. According to the aforementioned theory, the Crusaders, in order to protect their camps from this hazard, imported the deer and used them to keep the snakes away. Although deer do not actively hunt and kill snakes, as many believe, it is said that the deer’s antlers secrete an alkali substance which bothers snakes and drives them away. Some of these animals escaped from the camps and hid in the woods. Today’s population of Fallow Deer are their direct descendants.

An alternative theory says that the deer were imported by the Venetians when they controlled the island. However, in ancient texts Rhodes is also on occasion called Elaphousa, meaning that at that time it had lots of deer, long before any of the medieval invaders arrived on the island. Archaeological finds showing evidence of the existence of deer in the Eastern Aegean supports this theory as they suggests a much earlier date, perhaps as early as the 6th century BC.

Known locally as platoni, the Fallow Deer (Dama dama) are smaller than other deer, standing at 1 m, measuring between 1.6 and 1.9 m in length and weighing approximately 40-80 kg. Only the bucks have antlers which are broad and shovel-shaped. Their coats, which in the summer their coats are brown with white mottles, darken in the winter. The tail is between 16-19 cm in length and has a black tip.

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