Sika Deer

The Sika Deer (Cervus nippon) is a typical member of the family Cervidae that is closely related to the Red Deer and Wapiti and inhabit mixed coniferous and deciduous forests to the north, and mixed subtropical evergreen forests to the south. It is native to much of East Asia (absent from Hainan Island and the Ussuri Region of Siberia (also known as the Russian Far East), ranging from The Ussuri Region of Siberia southwards towards Korea, Manchuria and Northern and Southern China, with a possibly isolated population in Vietnam. It is also native to Taiwan and Japan and was possibly introduced to some other smaller western Pacific islands. The Kerama Sika Deer (C. n. keramae) of the Ryukyu Islands is one of the smallest, and unlike other subspecies, the whole body (including the rump patch) is dark brown. The Formosan Sika Deer (C. n. taioanus) is rather large for an island form being larger than the Kerama Sika Deer and similar in size to deer from Southern China. There are several geographically separated subspecies, but due to the long history of the velvet antler trade (for medicinal values) and farming of Sika deer for antler production in much of China, Mongolia, and Siberia, the integrity of these subspecies is questionable as many populations have already mixed gene pools. The only exceptions are possibly the Dybowski’s sika deer of Manchuria and Siberia, and the sika deer subspecies that survive in Japan and Taiwan.

Sika Deer are widespread in Japan, and readily become tame; at one time they were regarded as sacred. The largest wild populations are in the northern island of Hokkaido. Following Japanese settlement of Hokkaido in the latter half of the 19th century, the deer there were hunted almost to the point of extinction, and were reduced to a few small populations. Legal protection put in place in the mid 20th century was followed by rapid population recovery from the 1950s to the 1980s. In the absence of the natural predators (wolves, now extinct in Japan), some hunting is now encouraged in order to stabilize the population and limit the agricultural damage done by the deer. The present Hokkaido deer population is still concentrated in the eastern half of the island, and many deer that frequent other parts of the island migrate back to this area during the winter months.

Sika Deer have been introduced into a number of other countries including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Britain, France, Ireland, Jolo Island (south of the Philippines), New Zealand, Poland, Morocco and the United States (Maryland). In many cases they were originally introduced as ornamental animals in parkland, but have established themselves in the wild.

In Britain several distinct wild populations now exist. Some of these are in isolated areas, for example on the island of Lundy, but others are contiguous with populations of the native Red Deer. Since the two species hybridise, this is a serious conservation concern.

Sika, romanized shika in the Hepburn system, is the Japanese word for deer in general. The full Japanese word for Cervus nippon is nihonjika.

Dybowski’s sika deer (Cervus nippon dybowskii) and Formosan sika deer (Cervus nippon taioanus) are highly endangered and possibly already extinct in the wild. They can be found in several zoos and are being kept alive by a captive-management program.

The Sitka Deer is a subspecies of Black-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer and therefore, a different species.