The New Jersey Springbok

On May 4, 1819, the Linnean Society of London gathered to learn the fruits of Charles Hamilton Smith‘s study of the American “antelopes.”

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Smith had visited Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia museum, where he was able to examine and draw the only surviving specimen of the pronghorn brought back fifteen years earlier by Lewis and Clark, the

complete skin of an adult male, stuffed with great skill, although in a very indifferent state of preservation.

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Peale also showed his visitor “part of a skull with the horns attached to it brought out of the Jerseys, and said to be those of the spring-back.”

Smith dismisses that identification: the horns, or rather antlers, he pronounces

decidedly cervine, and the production of a young deer, or of an undescribed species.

But, he hastens to add, the Americans have told him that an antelope or some similar creature

formerly abounded and is still occasionally found in the state of New Jersey,

and just because the skull in Peale’s museum happens to have been mislabeled,

the misapplication of a name does not destroy the possibility of the existence of an analogous animal to the antelope.

Smith was unable to discover a genuine specimen or to see the animal in life, but he did obtain a drawing of one prepared by “an American gentleman.” That sketch “coincides,” says Smith, with the figure of a particularly frisky antelope in Albertus Seba’s Locupletissimus thesaurus:

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Seba’s informants and collectors knew this beast as the Macatlchichiltic or Temamacama, and told him that it grazed the mountains and cliffs of Mexico in “huge numbers.”

It’s a long ways from the slopes of New Spain to the dunes and forests of New Jersey, but that Temamacama looks like it could make the trip with no problem. So keep an eye out. It’s at least as likely as finding the Jersey devil.