All know the roe deer

Submitted by Looduskalender EN on Fri, 27.01.2017 - 18:27
The ancient Estonians called the roe deer “kaber”, today this name has been forgotten and instead “kits”, goat, has been borrowed from German. But the roe deer, the metskits, "forest goat", is no goat but instead a small deer. The goat belongs to the Bovidae family being a relative of sheep and bovines, the roe deer is a deer like the red deer and the elk.
Photo: Tarmo Mikussaar
Posted by the Animal of the Year team 02.01.2017

In contrast to the roe deer, our animal of last year, 2016, lives its badger life covertly and appears in sight of humans quite rarely. The larger part of its life, included almost all the winter, it spends in its burrow,, becoming active only when dusk arrives. I believe that many, maybe even a majority of my countrymen, have never met a badger in nature, and know it only from nature photos and films. It is quite different with the Animal of the Year of 2017 – this species is widely known. Even city children have met it in nature and know its name. ”Roe deer, who doesn’t know it!”. Sometimes it is simply called "kits".  This had better be discussed already in the beginning of our story. Firstly the word ”mets-” , forest, that makes up half of the name ”metskits”, is somewhat misleading: the 2017 Animal of the Year rather avoids large forest massifs , preferring more mosaic-type landscapes as habitat. But this is not all. Even more important is the fact that it is not a ”kits”, a goat, but a small deer. Goats belong to the Bovidae animals, such as sheep and cows, the ”metskits”, roe deer, however belongs to the Cervidae family, being related to the red deer and the elk.
True goats have hollow horns that stay in place the whole lifetime and only grow larger. The antlers of the Cervidae are different – only males have them, and they are replaced every year. The roe deer also has another Estonian name – kaber, which however is not much used today. We don’t know why it has been forgotten. Maybe because this species was gone from Estonian territory for several centuries. It retired from here towards south during the very cold period that lasted from the 16th century until the end of the 19th century which was sometimes even called the Little Ice Age. Returning to Estonia as the climate became warmer even its name was forgotten here and the newcomer began to called by a German name because the language was then in fashion. In German „Das Kitz“ means a roe deer kid and to be honest it sounds quite nice. If the species had reached our country now, it might by the same logic maybe had the English name „roe“. I will admit that this discussion is somewhat speculative, perhaps the acceptance of the new name had other reasons. It is true however that one of the most famous biologists and the godfather of many species Carl Linné gave this little creature the name Capreolus capreolus, which translated would mean ”Little goat Little goat”. I would not argue with such a prominent authority. Let us too stay with the „metskits“ , ”forest goat”, but let us remember that it is not biologically correct. So, the name of the animal is “metskits”, roe deer; the male is  “sokk”, roe buck, the female “kits”, roe doe and the young, up to a year old, “tall”, fawn.

Here we will make a short pause, continuing in the next roe deer article about its antlers that just now at the turn of the year are beginning to slowly grow back again.

Tiit Randveer