A celebration of Deer at Christmas time
- Red (Cervus elaphus) – With tall spiky antlers, Britain’s largest native wild mammal. Adults never spotty.
- Fallow (Dama dama) – With broad flattened antlers, introduced to Britain by the Roman’s or Normans. True wild fallow deer are rare in their native Turkey. Often spotty with a black and white M on their bottoms.
- Roe (Capreolus capreolus) – With short spiky antlers with very knobbly bases, Our smallest native deer. The original Bambi story was about a roe deer but the Disney film was not. Never spotty, no visible tail.
- Sika (Cervus nippon)– With antlers like red deer but body and size a lot like fallow; often spotty. Introduced to parks In Britain In the late 1800s from which It escaped. Various sub-species) are native to the Asian mainland from Vietnam in the south to eastern Russia in the north. As well as Taiwan and Japan. But some populations are rare and fragmented and in some cases, extinct.
- Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) – Small, no spots (on adults) and no antlers, but long fang like teeth. Introduced by the 11th Duke of Bedford ( look out for him in deer history! ) from guess where? Whilst their range is increasing in Britain, they are classed by the IUCN as Vulnerable in their native habitat. Where the race or sub-species that was translocated to Britain in the late 1800s is now thought to be extinct.
- Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) – Very small, no spots, dog-sized with very short antlers. Introduced to parks from China. Chinese and Indian Muntjacs were introduced to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in the late 1800s. They were probably first introduced by London Zoo in the 1830s, where they are thought to have hybridised and known to have escaped. Chinese muntjacs were later introduced to other deer parks leading to more escapes. It is classed as an invasive species across Britain and the European Union. It is still common in its homeland China, but is rare and protected in Hong Kong.
- European Elk (Alces alces) – Broad scoop or spoon-like antlers a bit like bat’s wings. Also called moose, these are the largest living deer and they once lived In Britain although fossils are very rare. They can swim and dive underwater for their water plant food
Around the world
- American elk (Cervus canadensis) – Not an elk! We call them wapiti. They are a large very close relative of red deer and the World’s second largest deer species. The smallest true deer is the southern Pudu. Close relatives of deer the chevrotains or mouse deer are smaller still.
- Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) or Milu – French missionary Père David or Father Armand David discovered this species, already extinct In the wild, in 1865. Father David stood on some rubble and peeped over the wall of the Emperor’s hunting park, and saw the strangest deer he had ever seen. I like to think that Father Christmas, Père Noel, discovered reindeer In a similar way! Entry to the park was forbidden to westerners and David used a combination of diplomacy and bribery to procure specimens. Antlers look back to front and the eyes look as if they are squinting. The Chinese called them Ssu-pu-hsiang which means ‘The Four Unlikes.’. Because they have stag’s antlers, camel necks, cow hooves and donkey tails. In 1894 a disastrous flood killed most of the Emperors deer with a few survivors escaping the park. Only to perish over the following years to become extinct in China. Luckily, or fortuitously, some deer had been sent to European zoos. Most of these died out, but the 11th Duke of Bedford gathered the 18 survivors together in his park at Woburn. And (to cut a long story short) saved the species, eventually sending some back to China. This is why zoos and captive breeding are important for global conservation. The deer returned to China were established in the old Imperial Hunting Park (now a conservation and research reserve). With other populations later being established and, to cut another part of the story short, feral deer becoming established. So, although it is still ‘technically extinct in the wild,’ it is living ‘in the wild. This latter success brought the species back into conflict with farmers. British Zoos were involved in the establishment of a plan, which incorporated the needs of local people into the future conservation of Père David’s deer. Father David also ‘discovered’ the panda for western science in 1869 when he spotted (if you’ll excuse the pun) a skin he did not recognise in a farmhouse in Szechwan. Father David is also known for the butterfly bush which is named after him. Buddleia davidii – he ‘discovered’ that for western science too, on the Chinese border with Tibet. A little further and he may have found the Yeti. He certainly thought he was on the trail of wild unicorns! Like many religious men of the time he supported Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, saying; “All science is dedicated to the study of God’s works and glorifies the Author; science is praiseworthy and even holy in its objective.”
- Mule and white tailed deer – These are north American deer with antlers that curve inwards quite elegantly. We mention them here because they are often used on Christmassy illustrations, in an ‘any deer will do’ kind of way. Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) have big mule-like ears. White tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are the species that Disney’s Bambi is based on. Due to it being more familiar to Americans, but neither species normally form large herds. The original Bambi, In the Austrian Novel Bambi, a Life in the Woods (1923) by Felix Salten was a roe deer.
Back to Britain and back in time
- Irish Elk or giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus) – this species carried the largest antlers of any deer that ever lived. They were not the largest deer that ever lived. Cervalces (a prehistoric moose) was the largest bodied and it also lived in Britain. But Irish elk did have the largest antlers, which could span over 3 metres. At about 40kg a pair, weigh more than an adult roe deer. They died out between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago as the Ice age and tundra retreated and humans advanced. The exact cause of their extinction Is unknown.
- Reindeer or caribou (Rangifer tarandus) – The only domesticated deer species and the subject of the oldest cave paintings found in Britain. Reindeer have fascinated, fed and helped humans for many thousands of years. Extinct In Britain at the end of the last Ice age they were introduced to the Cairngorm mountains In Scotland In 1952.
FIND OUT MORE IN OUR RHYMING BOOK… WE ARE REINDEER, with pictures to colour in.
And don’t forget to download your free reindeer colouring sheets.