Père David’s Deer

Scientific Name

Elaphurus davidianus

Geographic Range

Eastern China

Diet

Grass, reeds, and bushes
IUCN Conservation Status: EXTINCT IUCN Conservation Status: EXTINCT

About This Animal

Père David’s deer have a long tail and widely-spaced webbed hooves, with a coat that changes from reddish to grayish-brown in winter. They can be about 6–7 feet long and 4 feet tall at the shoulder. They are endemic to low-lying grasslands and reed beds in China, where they might swim in seasonally flooded areas. Believe it or not, they’re semiaquatic.

This species has antlers that are unlike other Old World deer species. Most such deer have antlers with a rear-pointing main branch or “beam”, and secondary branches, or “tines.” Père David’s deer have a front brow tine, which is the branch closest to the antler’s base, that is as large as the main beam and has its own tines. They shed these antlers and grow new ones at the start of winter.

Père David’s deer mate June through August, with males engaging in mock combat to compete for females. They have one fawn at a time after a gestation period of 270–300 days, and that fawn is independent around 11 months.

Known as milu in China, these deer were widely hunted in previous centuries. By the time Westerners learned about them in the mid-1800s, the only population that existed lived in a game preserve. And this group was wiped out by 1900 (due to flooding and a war). An English noble collected the remaining deer and founded a herd on his estate. Every Père David’s deer alive today descends from his herd. In the 1980s, captive breeding returned some animals to China, and there is hope that free-ranging populations could be re-established in the future.

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