Tracking down the Getulian dog

In 1551 the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner published his meisterwerk “Historia Animalium” ,[*1]. The book featured dozens of illustrations of curious animals – including the so-called Getulian dog (Canis getulus). Many of the other dogs which the book described and pictured  (e.g. the Greyhound and the Spaniel) are still very much around nearly half a millennium later – but where, oh where, is the Getulian?

A possible clue turned up 105 years later, alongside a strikingly similar illustration  [*2] of the mysterious Canid which was published in :  ‘The history of four-footed beasts and serpents’ by Edward Topsell.

Topsell’s accompanying description revealed that the Getulian dog was still alive-and-well at the time – and living in England, more than two thousand kilometres away from its homeland, Getulia [*3]. It apparently had shaggy hair, a short tail, a curved back, and a sharp black face resembling a hedgehog. But Topsell’s alternative name for the dog ‘The Mimick’ ( “… apt to imitate all things it sees, for which cause some have thought that it was conceived by an ape …“ ) might provide a plausible clue to the dog’s subsequent disappearance  – and maybe even an alternate identity too? (Improbable spoiler here)


[*1] 240 plates from the book can be downloaded (58 MB in zipped jpeg format) courtesy the Fondo Antiguo at the Universidad de Sevilla, Spain.

[*2] The illustration was left/right reversed from the original, presumably during the woodcut copying process – though curiously, many of the other copied illustrations were not.

[*3] Getulia (a.k.a. Gaetulia) was the (now archaic) name given to a district of the interior of Northern Africa, bordering the Atlas Mountains.