Père David’s Deer

Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus, other names: Cerf du Père David( fr), Ciervo del Padre David (es), and Milu in Chinese (麋鹿)), is a species of deer known only in captivity. It prefers marshland, and is believed to be native to the subtropics. It grazes on a mixture of grass and water plants.

Adults weigh 330-440 pounds (150-200 kg). They have a nine-month gestation period, and one or two fawns are born at a time. They reach maturity at about 14 months, and have been known to reach the age of 23 years.

Père David’s deer has a long tail, wide hooves, and branched antlers. Adults have summer coats that are bright red with a dark dorsal stripe, and dark gray winter coats. The fawns are spotted.

These animals were first made known to Western science in the 19th century, by Father Armand David, a French missionary working in China. At the time, the only surviving herd was in a preserve belonging to the Chinese emperor. The last herd of Père David’s deer that remained in China were eaten by Western and Japanese troops that were present at the time of the Boxer Rebellion.

After Father David publicized their existence, a few animals were given to European countries, and bred there. After the remaining population in China died out, the remaining deer in Europe were gathered to England to be bred for the preservation of the species. The current population stems from this herd.

These deer are now found in zoos around the world, and two herds of Père David’s deer were reintroduced to Nan Haizi Milu Park, Beijing and Dafeng Reserve, Jiangsu Province, China in the late 1980s. They are classified as “critically endangered” in the wild, but do not appear to have suffered from a genetic bottleneck because of small population size, apparently because their population had been much reduced for a long time already, which eliminated harmful allele combinations.