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The Myotragus Balearicus

myotragus_balearicus

The Myotragus balearicus is a small sized wild goat that is as extinct and dead as a dodo. The only chance to see one is in its skeletonised form and shape in a museum, and there are not many museums in the world that can claim that they have got one. According to the sources I consulted, this animal lived in the Balearic Islands, and only here, up to some 4,000 years ago.

The Myotragus balearicus was only discovered in 1909 by a Victorian archaeo-zoologist and palaeontologist, one Ms. Dorothea Bate from Wales. She came to Mallorca on an expedition looking to discover some extinct fauna when she quite accidentially found a skeleton of this animal, complete with fossilised limb bones and a well-preserved skull. The creature was unlike anything that had ever been seen before and hitherto had been unknown to science. Ms. Bate was honoured by having the animal she discovered named after her, Myotragus balearicus Bate.

myotragus balearicus

I suppose that no one alive has ever seen a real Myotragus balearicus, so I can not be sure that the taxidermist’s rendition of the animal shown here is anywhere near the real McCoy, but let’s assume that it may be close enough to the real thing. The animal was small for a goat but had a goatish appearance, even though scientists think that genetically it was rather related to a sheep. The creature is also sometimes called an antelope gazelle, a mouse-goat or even a cave goat.

You can see a full skeleton sample at the Museu de Mallorca in Palma (currently closed for refurbishment), at the Natural History Museum in London and also at the Natural History Museum in Tring, a zoological branch of the London museum. Skulls and single Myotragus bones can be seen here in Mallorca at the Museu Balear de Ciències Naturals in Sóller and the Museu d’Història in Manacor.

myotragus_skull

A new book has just been published on the subject of the Myotragus and other Mallorcan oddballs by Anna Nicholas: Goats from a Small Island (London, Summersdale, 2009, 320pp, ISBN 978-1840247602). Ms. Nicholas is a contributor to the Majorca Daily Bulletin. I have not read the book yet but I certainly will as soon as I can get hold of a copy.

The photo (bottom) was taken in Manacor, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: June 7th, 2009. The time was 17:45:54. The two photos (top) were borrowed from the Internet. Thanks are due (from the top) to Paulo RRB/Flickr, and Carlos Pons/Flickr. Obrigado, and moltes gràcies.

2 replies »

  1. Having just read ‘Discovering Dorothea”, the biography of Dorothea Bate (the discoverer of Myotragus) by Karolyn Shindler (HarperCollins 2005), I wish to question some of the above statements.

    Dorothea Bate did not discover the fossil remains of Myotragus ‘quite accidentally’. She had already spent years systematically and successfully searching other Mediterranean islands (Cyprus, Crete) for similar bone deposits and fossil remains long before she investigated Mallorca.

    Also, it is untrue to state that she was ‘honoured by having the animal she discovered named after her, Myotragus balearicus Bate.’ As is the convention in science, because Dorothea Bate discovered, described and named Myotragus balearicus, her own name is included in the scientific name as the author of the new genus and species she found.

    In the circumstances, and in view of Dorothea Bate’s remarkable career, I suggest that it is unfair to refer to this remarkable pioneering female palaeontologist as ‘one Ms. Dorothea Bate from Wales.’ Give credit where credit is due!

    Alex Ritchie

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