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Pudú

The pudú, also known as the püdü or püdu in the Mapudungun language, is a genus that holds two species of South American deer. These species are known as the southern pudú, which resides in a range that extends from southern Chile to southwestern Argentina, and the northern pudú, which resides in Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. Species in this genus prefer a habitat in temperate rainforests. In these areas, pudús use bamboo thickets and underbrush for protection.

Pudús were first discovered in 1850 by John Edward Gray, an English naturalist. The scientific name is borrowed from the Mapudungun language, and although Alfred Henry Garrod attempted to change the name of the genus to Pudua, the original name was kept. Another common name for the species within this genus is the Chilean mountain goat, because it inhabits the Andes Mountains.

The northern and southern pudús are the smallest species of deer in the world. The southern pudú reaches an average height between fourteen and eighteen inches at the shoulder, making it slightly larger than the northern pudú, which reaches an average height of up to fourteen inches at the shoulder. The southern pudú reaches an average weight of up to thirty pounds, while the northern pudú reaches a weight of up to 13.2 pounds. The southern pudú is dark brown in color and grows curved horns that reach a length between 2.1 to 3.5 inches. The northern pudú grows horns that curve backwards, much like that of its southern relative, but these horns are smaller reaching an average length of 2.4 inches long. This species is also lighter in color and have darker faces.

Both northern and southern pudús are typically solitary, but because of their elusive nature, there is not much known about how wild individuals react with one another.  These species are active at night and during the day, but are most active in the early morning, afternoon, and evening hours. Pudús typically hold a home range of about forty to sixty acres, with each individual marking its territory with dung piles. These can be found near eating areas and along well-traveled paths. Pudús will use scent gland located on the face to communicate, but interactions are not known to occur except during mating season.

The mating season for the species within the Pudú genus occurs between the months of April and May. After mating, female pudús will have a pregnancy that lasts about seven months, after which one or two young are born. The young can weigh between twenty-five to thirty-five ounces, but will grow quickly reaching adult size at three months of age. The fur of pudú fawns is typically reddish brown in color, with southern fawns baring white stripes along the back. Fawns are weaned at two months of age, but will not reach sexual maturity until six to twelve months, depending on the sex.

The diet of the deer in the Pudú genus consists of many types of vegetation, including herbs, shoots, leaves, vines, shrubs, blossoms, fallen fruit, and tree bark, among other things. Because of this all plant diet, both species of pudú do not require a fresh source of water, acquiring hydration from the plants they eat. Obtaining food can sometimes be difficult, due to the pudú’s small size and flighty nature. It will often pause while foraging to stand on its hind legs and smell for any food or predators in the area. In order to reach desired vegetation that is too high up, these deer must either climb onto the branch of the tree holding the food or bend the braches low enough to eat the food. Females and young pudús will use their teeth to pull bark off young trees, and it is thought that males only use their horns.

Both species of pudú are hunted by small cats, foxes, and owls. More specifically, these include the Magellan fox and Andean fox, the great horned owl, and the cougar. When the pudú is being hunted, it will zigzag through the forest, using its abilities in jumping and climbing to its advantage. The average lifespan of members of this genus is between eight in ten years, although one individual lived to be over fifteen years of age. Besides hunting by predators, natural deaths include young dying of neglect and a variety of diseases. There is one tale that states that if a pudú is scared enough, it will die from cardiac problems, but this is not true.

The main threat to both species in the Pudú genus is habitat destruction. The forests in which these species survive are being destroyed for human developments like farms and ranches, as well as for logging. Hunting is also a threat to the pudú, and it is often captured and traded illegally. Other threats include competition with introduced species like the red deer and road accidents.

The northern and southern pudús are both listed on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Vulnerable.” Southern pudús are more easily maintained in zoos than northern pudús, and there are over one hundred southern pudús in zoos that are registered with ISIS. Most of these occur in European and United States zoos. It is difficult to move new individuals into zoos, however, because pudús are extremely sensitive to heat and trauma. Both northern and southern pudús occur in protected areas, although more funding is needed to enforce the protection of these species. Conservation efforts include captive breeding programs, reintroduction into the wild, and preservation of habitat.

Image Caption: Pudu puda. Credit: Jaime E. Jimenez/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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