Heritage: Lord Walter’s animals leave a lasting legacy

Wallabies in Tring Park and an emu head     PICTURES: Courtesy of Tring Local History and Museum Society
Wallabies in Tring Park and an emu head PICTURES: Courtesy of Tring Local History and Museum Society
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Tring Museum is a lasting reminder of Lord Walter Rothschild’s passion for birds and animals, although the killing that went on to supply the wonderful exhibits is rather saddening.

Lord Walter did, however, have quite a menagerie of live animals.

There were, of course, deer in Tring Park and he added wallabies, (referred to as kangaroos), emus, and rheas.

Many of the older Tring people remember when these creatures roamed the park.

He kept zebras to train them to harness and nearer to the Mansion he even had a small private zoo.

The Gazette’s sister paper, The Bucks Herald, of July 31 1897 refers to a giant land tortoise being added to Tring Park but on December 7 1901 the paper said: “A tortoise weighing a quarter of a ton has been presented to the Zoological Gardens, London, by the Hon. Walter Rothschild MP.

“The date of its birth is buried in antiquity as it is mentioned as quite an old stager in a deed dated 1810. It was probably alive and crawling 150 years ago.”

On March 14 1903 the paper again refers to Lord Walter’s animals.

Our Tring correspondent writes: “Various paragraphs appeared in the London press, more or less correct, with reference to the escape of a kangaroo at Euston Station on Friday 6.

“It seems that eight kangaroos, securely packed in specially made crates, were dispatched from Tring Park addressed to Mr Hamleyn, London Docks.

“The consignment reached Euston safely but when the crates were being transferred from the train, one of the packages, owing probably to rough treatment, got damaged and the animal escaped.

“An exciting chase ensued and it is said that the kangaroo sustained some injuries while being captured.”

Walter continued to give away some of his animals. In 1905 he presented two kangaroos, two rheas and two emus to be placed in London parks, and in 1908 he gave another emu and two kangaroos.

However, these creatures would not seem suitable for public parks, especially the emus, well known for their rather temperamental characters and sharp beaks.

Two introductions to the local wildlife have survived and flourished locally.

The little muntjac deer can often be seen darting across paths in the woods near Tring and Ashridge and the glis-glis, or edible dormouse, (though seldom seen as it is nocturnal), is known to exist over quite a large area since its escape into the wild.

This pretty little squirrel-like animal is said to be particularly fond of apples and has been heard scampering about in lofts where they were stored. They were seen by torchlight in apple trees in a garden in Amersham showing that they have travelled some distance from their original haunts. Have you ever seen one?