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Nature volume 128, pages 329332 (29 August 1931) | Download Citation



ALTHOUGH it has been exhibited there before, the walrus is sufficiently rare in captivity to make the recent acquisition of two young specimens by the Zoological Gardens at Regent's Park, London, a noteworthy event. Walruses are delicate animals in captivity, perhaps because those that come to land are young, tuskless individuals. It is said that the walrus-cub is suckled by its dam until the tusks appear, so that it may be that the change from the maternal milk diet is at the root of the trouble. At the same time, there is no doubt that some species exhibit innately poor viability in captivity, and that these are sometimes the most robust-looking, and not highly specialised in diet: thus, the gorilla is delicate as well as the walrus, and the capercailzie is the most difficult subject of all the game-birds. The walrus is not only interesting scientifically, but also is a good popular exhibit, for its face exhibits a curiously close caricature of humanity. It would seem, therefore, that Tacitus was playing the arm-chair critic when he cynically suggested (“Annals”, ii. 24) that the “marine monsters, forms half-human, half-bestial”, told of by returned legionaries of Germanicus after a storm in the North Sea which drove some of them as far as the coasts of Britain, might have been “conjured up by their fears”; for the walrus, which even at the present day occasionally visits our northern coasts, would no doubt have been well in evidence farther south at that date—the early years of the first century of our era. These men also reported “unknown birds”, which were also probably not imaginary, as the Great Auk would be equally likely with the walrus to be present and attract attention there and then.

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