Bobby The Antelope Was A British Army Mascot For Decades, But Now He's Gone Due To A Sad Reality

Britain has a reputation for eccentricity, and that’s certainly true when it comes to its miltary. Take, for example, the tradition of the regimental mascot. They’re normally animals like goats and ponies. But for the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the animal in question was a much-loved antelope, who would nearly always be named Bobby. After generations, though, 2005 saw a sad end to the custom.

A good-luck charm

A regimental mascot is regarded as something of a good-luck charm. The concept has existed in Britain for centuries, and often provides a major morale boost to soldiers when they face harsh conditions while far from home. As far as the rest of the regiment is concerned, the mascot is just another one of the troops — yes, with its own rank and uniform. They’ll go on parade and be treated as part of the family.

Hundreds of years of service

Even older than the concept of the regimental mascot was the Royal Warwickshire Regiment itself. It was established in 1674 as England helped the Dutch fight the French, then came home in 1685 to help King James II defeat the Monmouth Rebellion. In 1688 it was there to help William III overthrow James II. For more than 300 years since, it has served monarchs and country throughout countless wars and conflicts.

Army supergroup

The Royal Warwickshires didn’t just see trouble on the battlefield. They had to contend restructuring, such as when they became the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers in 1963. By 1968 they’d been amalgamated with other fusiliers from Northumberland, London and Lancashire into something of a supergroup called the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Through it all, though, they had Bobby.

An unusual mascot

Well, not the same Bobby, of course. Each time one generation died another would replace them at the head of the regiment. It all stemmed back to the regimental badge, which depicted a proud antelope image. When the Warwickshires were stationed in India between 1825 and 1841 and they saw the local blackbuck antelopes — Antilope cervicapra to be precise it was only natural that they’d be moved to adopt them as mascots.

A symbol of friendship

Local maharajahs saw how taken the British soldiers were with the antelope and offered some as gifts. This became a tradition that would be repeated through many years as a symbol of friendship. As time went on, Warwickshires back in the U.K. had to settle for London Zoo as a source of new mascots. Then in 2005 the regiment finally had to give up on Bobby, and the reason wasn’t a happy one.

A badge of honor

Quite why the antelope ended up on the badge of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the first place isn’t entirely clear. One story traces it back to the 1710 Battle of Saragossa, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Rumor has it that the image was originally on a Moorish banner from north Africa, but the Warwickshires claimed it as their own after capturing the flag.

A royal connection

Another account links the badge to the House of Lancaster, which included several kings of England. It’s certainly not implausible that the regiment would have wanted a solid symbol of their connection to royalty. And blackbuck antelopes have their own almost divine significance in their Indian homeland. Hinduism claimed them as steeds of the gods, particularly Vayu and Krishna.

Heraldic images

There are Mughal paintings that show the blackbuck antelope in all its glory, and princely states made it a heraldic image. It may be one of the smaller species of antelope, but it’s beautiful to behold. Their bodies are lithe and graceful, while males in particular are distinctive with their magnificent horns and artistic facial stripes. And few Indian land animals move more quickly.

Everyday names

The animal’s regal link wasn’t exactly the first thing on soldiers’ minds when they went to christen their new mascot, though. The names that cropped up were the common and everyday kinds of the sort you’d find on any street in London or Birmingham. There was Billy, there was Charlie, and eventually the regiment settled on Bobby. That was the name that would stick.

Distinguished and naughty

And Bobby would definitely stick around. He wasn’t just pretty, but had tons of character to make soldiers smile. Well, when they weren’t sewing back on the buttons that Bobby had chewed off, or having to dodge a blow from those impressive-looking horns. Horns that were wrapped in silver cones for formal occasions, when he’d also wear either a royal-blue or scarlet coat with the regimental badge. A very distinguished, yet naughty, antelope.

Irreverent behavior

It seemed the irreverent behavior of blackbuck antelope mascots extended to senior officers and even kings. One drum major was left with a hole in trousers when Bobby buffeted on his rear end on the otherwise-dignified occasion of a military tattoo. Another Bobby decided he wasn’t going to march in procession to honor George V, but would instead sit and chew the grass right in front of His Majesty. 

Too clever

Blackbuck antelopes turned out to be nosey, mischievous and a lot of fun as mascots. Some were a little too clever, like the one whose mysterious limp magically disappeared once he was back home from parade. They could also get pretty hungry. Two specially designated handlers were in charge of keeping Bobby stocked with his favorite foods. That included nuts, crackers and biscuits — the English kind — but also cigarettes. Not really a recommended diet!

Plenty of exercise

By the time the last Bobby was trotting around in the early part of the 21st century, cigarettes had been removed from the menu, but biscuits were still popular. Like his predecessors, this Bobby also enjoyed plenty of exercise, including lots of long walks, and plenty of soccer. Well, football, as the English would say. As of 1997 he was also the recipient of a Long Service and Good Conduct medal.

A famous walk

The most famous walk that a Bobby had ever taken was probably back in 1945. Yes, that was a pretty significant year in military, and indeed world history. When the Warwickshires entered Hamburg towards the end of WWII they found a blackbuck antelope in the local zoo. What else were they going to do but bring him into the regiment? Imagine the faces of the German citizens watching soldiers walking past with their newest member.

New challenges

Bobby faced new challenges in the 21st century. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease was devastating livestock across the country. It was a dangerous time to be an animal. If he’d been exposed to the disease, he might have needed to be put down, as was the sad fate of millions of cows and sheep. Instead, he took up residence in the Tower of London.

Perfect homes

The Tower of London is more famous for its executions than its living quarters. Residents who came to an unhappy end there included Henry VIII’s wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, as well as Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine-Day Queen”. But it turned out to be perfect for Bobby. He had his biscuits and walks. It would be 15 months before he finally returned to barracks and his home on a converted tennis court.

An uncomfortable truth

Unfortunately, no creature can live forever. The most recent Bobby died in 2005 and the regiment was faced with an uncomfortable truth. There were no longer endless herds of blackbuck antelope galloping across India. The animals had become seriously endangered due to human encroachment on their territory and their whole species was at threat. There was no way the army could justify removing another member of that shrunken, protected population.

Change of animal

But don’t despair. As sad as it was to see hundreds of years of tradition defeated by such a modern obstacle, the Warwickshires are not without a mascot today: they’ve just had to change their choice of animal. Now they’re represented by George the otterhound, who is a very handsome and very good dog. And Bobby’s memory isn’t gone completely, but preserved in an image on the buttons of the regiment’s dress uniforms.

Carrying on the tradition

The British Army is full of strange and wonderful traditions like their animal mascots. It’s a shame that one of its oldest regiments is no longer able to keep theirs after all these years, but it’d clearly be even worse if the blackbuck antelope became completely extinct. Bobby has been involved in all sorts of adventures, but there’s no doubt George the otterhound will carry on those traditions as best he can. But the Royal Warwickshire Regiment is far from the only British institution with an animal mascot...

A national treasure

Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II might have been the defining institution of Great Britain for over 70 years; and her love for her corgis was legendary. But her passion for animals didn't stop at dogs. Over the years she showed adoration for many creatures, and we have the pictures to prove it. Join us as we browse Her Majesty’s menagerie, and see if your favorite made the list...

Corgi cuddles

Elizabeth’s connection with corgis dates back far further than her reign as Queen. In fact, she had a strong bond with the breed even as a young princess. It began at age seven when the future monarch’s family got a corgi named Rozavel Golden Eagle, apparently because he had an unusually small tail. Yet since he was officially the Duke of York’s, the dog was soon nicknamed Dookie. 

Princess’ pony

By tradition the royals are habitually linked with horses, and equines were introduced to Elizabeth early in life. Legendary American horse trainer Monty Roberts told The New York Times in 2022 just how important Her Majesty’s time with horses was. He said, “When the Queen was with horses, she was a horse person. She didn’t want to be the Queen.”

Family dogs

Mom the Duchess of York was a dog-owner, so as children Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret were no stranger to them. And it wasn’t just corgis, either. The royals have had a variety of dog breeds, animals which initially belonged to her parents. Elizabeth didn’t get her own furry friend until her 18th birthday, when she received a corgi called Susan as a gift. 

Princesses and pigeons

The humble pigeon might be closely related to a dove, but it gets a much worse press! Still, if they’re good enough for royalty, they’re good enough for us. Actually, they’re very smart birds when it comes to navigation and the Queen used carrier pigeons in her youth. She even sent one to Chief Guide Lady Olave Baden-Powell regarding her late husband’s birthday. 

In awe of horses

Elizabeth didn’t just adore her own horses, she loved all of them and took center stage at many equine-based events. Take the Royal Windsor Horse Show, for example, where she inspected not just the troops, but also their mounts. The sheer joy on her face as she admired them spoke volumes about the depth of her affection for them.

A trip to the park

Prince Philip shared Elizabeth’s love of horses, and he participated in 1973’s Marathon Coaching Event of the Royal Windsor Horse Show at a park in Virginia Water, England. His wife was there too of course, and it was a good opportunity to spend some downtime reading. Do you know what else parks are great for? Dogs! So the Queen brought her entire furry family with her to enjoy the day. 

Pup mountain

In 1978 Elizabeth attended the U.K.’s Badminton Horse Trials, though it wasn’t all about horses. She’s pictured here with a massive pack of hounds, and she’s no stranger to mountains of puppers. In 2022 British newspaper The Guardian described how she was often accompanied by “a yapping moving carpet” of corgis that were not always well-behaved. 

Farm visit

It’s no secret that Balmoral in Scotland was a favored home of Elizabeth, and as such she had as many luxuries there as she did at her other residences. That included a farm on the estate where she kept some of her beloved horses. She and the Duke of Edinburgh went to Balmoral to get away from it all, especially on special occasions like their silver wedding anniversary, pictured here in 1972. 

Never forget

The Queen loved animals without fur or hair, as she displayed when she visited Dunstable’s Whipsnade Zoo in 2017. She and Prince Philip visited to officiate the zoo’s new Center for Elephant Care where they met a young Asian elephant called Donna. Elizabeth got to feed bananas to the adorable elephant, who looked just as pleased to meet royalty as the monarch was to meet her. 

The princess and the panda

Being royalty is bound to give you privileges beyond the scope of the average citizen, and that extends to even commonplace trips. When a young Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret visited the zoo in 1939 they experienced one of those opportunities. They got to pet a real live panda cub, which for many people is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and probably one the future monarch never forgot.

Porcine pal

The Queen had more public animal interactions than just visiting horse shows, you know. She was also an attendee at agricultural shows, displaying how her fondness for animals extended to domestic livestock. Here she is in 1989 coming face-to-face with a piglet, who looks like it could start talking at any moment. That’ll do, pig. 

Feeding the fowl

We all know that swans are the traditional royal bird. They’re the species everyone thinks of when you mention the Queen. They aren’t the only ones she was interested in, though. In 1996 Elizabeth attended Gloucestershire’s Wildfowl And Wetlands Trust, of which she was a patron for several decades. She had the fowl there eating out of her hands. Literally! 

Seen and herd

It wasn’t just the Balmoral estate Queen Elizabeth enjoyed on her trips to Scotland. She was also a fan of the local livestock there. In 1972 she was pictured taking a leisurely stroll through the fields with Prince Phllip and admiring the highland cattle there, obviously enjoying the day out. And who wouldn’t? Those cows look so pettable. 

Corgi companion

So if some of the Queen’s corgis were ill-behaved, how did the royals handle that? They actually had the royal staff clean up any bathroom mishaps, but according to The Guardian, one footman took it too personally. He put alcohol in the corgi food to get them drunk, and needless to say it cost him his position. He was quite rightly demoted post-haste. 

Prize-winning pony

In 1944 the first-place winner of the Royal Windsor Horse Show got a special treat. The future Queen fed them from the very trophy cup with which they had just been awarded. We should just clarify we’re talking about the horse here, and not the owner. Did you know Elizabeth owned 24 winners of England’s annual Royal Ascot races?

Guiding influence

The Queen was renowned for her garden parties, but it wasn’t just humans that attended. In fact, there were a few dogs there, too. As a matter of fact, they were exceptions because in some cases they were service animals such as the one pictured with Elizabeth at a Holyrood Palace do in 1999. The look of adoration on the dog’s face as he gets petted is heart-melting. 

Donkey duties

They’re not as traditionally majestic as horses, but donkeys can still get the royal treatment occasionally. And few deserve it more than this one, who was saved from a slaughterhouse. Not only that, but it took part in a Royal Donkey Walk spanning 702 miles and was honored by a meeting with Elizabeth herself! Now that’s a prize that was worth the journey.

Swan subjects

The link between the royal family and swans originates in medieval times, when the monarch could claim any they wished. Well, the tradition continued on when the crown passed down, and the swan upping census, when officials count the swan population in the River Thames, is part of that. The Queen attended in 2009 where she met a young orphan cygnet and burst into the widest grin. 

Pup portrait

The Queen often looked at her happiest when she was with her corgis, which sometimes baffled Prince Philip. He once asked why she had so many around, and according to those close to her it was because the dogs relaxed her. She found talking to them and taking walks with them therapeutic, which was important for a woman in her position. 

Not just horse rides

Elizabeth spent a lot of time in India, so she learned to ride a lot more than just horses. An image captured in 1961 shows the Queen riding through Nepal on the back of an elephant, sheltered from the scorching heat by a parasol. They were different times, but the young monarch still maintained her royal bearing.

Candid canine-lovers

This candid shot shows HRH and Prince Philip enjoying some time out with their dog at Balmoral grounds. They’re the royal family, but it’s so relatable it could belong to any 1970s couple. Speaking of dogs, many of the Queen’s corgis were actually descended from her original dog Susan, so the line dates back to her childhood. She owned in excess of 30 throughout her lifetime.

Royal candy

This is the Oak Room in Windsor Castle, where the Queen was captured in 2022 reminiscing over her collection of Jubilee memorabilia. Although it was the date of her ascent to the throne, it was also bittersweet, considering it also commemorated her father King George VI’s passing. She’s comforted by one of her many corgis, a little dog named Candy. 

Furry family

Margaret and Elizabeth at the Royal Lodge in Windsor are surrounded by dogs in this picture of their childhood from 1936. Among them are two Welsh corgis, including Jane and the Duke of York’s famous dog, Dookie. According to the source, there’s also a little Tibetan lion dog breed — otherwise known as a Shih Tzu — with them, adorably named Choo Choo. 

Little dog house

The royal family took their dogs with them wherever they went, even back when the Queen was a little princess. Here they are in 1933 spending time at Y Bwthyn Bach, which translates as “The Little House.” It was a gift to Elizabeth from the Welsh and even though it was little by name, it was still big enough to house the royals and their many pets. 

Riding school royalty

Apparently, when Roberts was riding with the Queen they were once approached by a woman who did not recognize them; she asked if the monarch worked at the stables. Elizabeth wasn’t offended, though. The New York Times reported how she simply said, “I don’t want people to know, when I’m riding around, who I am. I just want them to know I love horses.”

Putting on a show

Although Elizabeth famously participated in many equine activities including the Royal Windsor Horse Show, she wasn’t the only royal to do so. Prince Edward also took part, such as here in 1998 on his skewbald horse. Her Majesty was still involved though, to support both the prince and his gallant steed. The latter got plenty of affection from the Queen in between events, of course. 

Mane interest

Elizabeth has owned horses since her early life, thanks to her grandfather King George V. He gifted the princess a little Shetland pony for her fourth — yes, that’s right, her fourth — birthday. It’s every little girl’s dream! The pony was called Peggy and it sparked the future monarch’s lifelong interest in horses. What an excellent motivation to learn how to ride!

Riding buddies

You may think of horse-riding as more of an English sport, but the royal family aren’t the only figureheads who partake. Back in 1982 then-president Ronald Reagan visited the Queen at Windsor Castle and they bonded on horseback. He wasn’t the only President who Elizabeth met, either: she encountered 14 of the 15 who spanned her reign. Lyndon Johnson was the inexplicable odd man out. 

Colorful horses

Have you heard that the Queen had two birthdays? It’s true, but so does everyone who wears the crown. Every year the patriarch or matriarch of the royal family gets an official birthday alongside their personal one, which is marked by a big ceremony called Trooping the Color. Princess Elizabeth is pictured here attending 1951 to represent her father, King George VI.

Traveling companions

This photo shows the Queen traveling to Balmoral with her corgis in tow, but she’d take them much further afield than that. She actually smuggled her first dog Susan on her honeymoon by hiding her in the carriage as it headed for their train. The carriage was open to the elements, but Susan was safe under blankets with a hot water bottle to keep her nice and snug.

Dog days

The Queen wasn’t just a dog-lover, she was also a dog-breeder. She was credited with breeding her sister Margaret’s dachshund Pipkin with her own corgi Tiny, which resulted in a mixed breed now called a “dorgi.” How was that physically possible given their respective sizes, you ask? “Oh, it’s very simple,” the monarch once reportedly commented, as per The Guardian. “We have a little brick they can stand on.”

Cradling corgis

So how did the Kennel Club react to Elizabeth’s dorgis? According to The Guardian it remarked, “The dachshund was evolved to chase badgers down holes, and the corgis to round up cattle. If anyone loses a herd of cattle down a badger hole, then these are just the dogs to get them out.” But if the monarch’s general canine devotion is anything to go by, she bred them for love, not work.

Little nipper

Elizabeth’s first dogs weren’t fond of strangers! Take Susan, for example. She was infamous for her exploits, perhaps the most well-known of her victims being Alfred Edge, a grenadier guardsman. Susan’s other targets included the legs of royal staff and the royal clockwinder. Not even police officers or detectives were safe from those tiny-but-active gnashers!  

Palace guard

In 1942 Elizabeth and Margaret were photographed not with a corgi or a dorgi but with their loyal Lhasa Apso. The interesting thing about that is that the breed was originally used as a palace guard, albeit in the more exotic climes of Tibet. In recent generations they serve as family dogs, but they’re known for their protective nature, and extra security certainly doesn’t hurt if you’re royal! 

Horse hiatus

Elizabeth loved horses so much that even after she took a break in her later years due to riding discomfort, she couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle — literally. In 2022 she was seen taking a leisurely ride on a pony! A source for People magazine rightly commented, “At 96, it’s amazing that the Queen has been on her horse.”

Royal racing

The Queen loved racehorses and even once owned Augustine, the one she’s shown here with at Rye in 1966. But she didn’t attend the famous Grand National, which has been criticized for the high number of equine deaths associated with it. Still, according to the royal racing advisor John Warren, the monarch read the Racing Post newspaper to keep up-to-date with the events of the day. 

Guiding light

In 2006 the Queen visited Staffordshire to show support for the visually impaired residents there and their guide dogs. She was a patron of over 600 charities, and many of them supported animals, particularly dogs. Guide dogs are a special interest to other members of the royal family too — the Countess of Wessex also patronizes them, particularly the National Center, which trains pups to be future assistance animals. 

Puppy popularity

As previously noted, sometimes Elizabeth even combined two interests and took her dogs to the Badminton Horse Trials, as she did here in 1976. Many fans of the royals were just as interested in dogs as the Queen herself was! One of the most frequently-asked questions on the royal website was “What are the names of the Queen’s corgis?” and they have a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to them. 

Reflections of royalty

According to Bobo Macdonald, who acted as the Queen’s dresser, the moods of the corgis tended to reflect those of their royal owner. A headscarf meant it was time for walkies, so the dogs would begin “jumping up and down” in excitement. A tiara, on the other hand, was royal business and not playtime. On those occasions the corgis would just “lie mutely on the carpet in a mood of Celtic depression.”

Horses and hounds

In 2022 Horse and Hound magazine’s Marta Terry recalls a story of how Elizabeth’s passion for equines blossomed. She wrote, “There’s that wonderful story, to which every horsey child can relate, about her going to visit some of her father King George’s horses when they were being prepped for a big race. She stroked them, and then didn’t wash her hands for the rest of the day. So she’s always been a horse-lover.”