Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Cervidae

Scientific Name: Cervus nippon
Species Authority: Temminck, 1838
Common Name(s):
English Sika Deer, Sika, Shansi Sika, Japanese Sika Deer
Taxonomic Notes: This species was reviewed by Feldhamer (1980) and Banwell (1999). Native and introduced populations seriously threatened by genetic pollution; numerous populations are of uncertain provenance or have mixed ancestry; the status of C. n. hortulorum is particularly uncertain. Groves (2006) reviewed the species' taxonomy and concluded that four species are involved, C. nippon of southern Japan, C. yesoensis of central and northern Japan, C. taiouanus of Taiwan, and C. hortulorum of the mainland range. However, we consider all of these as subspecies of C. nippon, pending further information. The following subspecies are also widely recognized:
C. n. aplodontus (North Honshu Sika);
C. n. mantchuricus (Manchurian Sika): former USSR;
C. n. mandarinus (North China Sika) China (considered extinct);
C. n. grassianus, (Shansi Sika): China (considered extinct);
C. n. sichuanicus (Sichuan Sika): China;
C. n. yesoensis (Hokkaido Sika): Japan;
C. n. taiouanus (Formosan or Taiwan Sika): Taiwan;
C. n. pseudaxis (Viet Namese or Tonkin Sika): Viet Nam;
C. n. kopschi, (South China or Kopschi Sika): China;
C. n. keramae (Ryukyu or Kerama Sika): Japan;
C. n. pulchellus: Japan - Tsushima Islands.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-11-17
Assessor(s): Harris, R.B.
Reviewer(s): Brook, S.M. & McShea, W.J.
Contributor(s): Duckworth, J.W. & Wang Ying
Listed as Least Concern because of its abundant, increasing population in Japan, and stable population in Russia. The subpopulation in Taiwan is evidently holding steady. However, all other free-ranging subpopulations are very seriously threatened. In China all subpopulations are small (the largest numbering about 500) and fragmented, and the species appears to be in danger of extirpation in Korea and Viet Nam (possibly already extinct). In terms of applying the Red List Criteria to the species globally, the large subpopulation in Japan masks all population trends from elsewhere within its range, leading to a Least Concern listing. However, it is a priority to conduct new assessments of the mainland subspecies as soon as possible.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2008 Least Concern (LC)
1996 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Sika was distributed across east Asia, from central China in the west to Japan and Korea in the east, and from the extreme eastern tip of Russia in the north to southern China and Viet Nam. Specifically, it was originally found in China (formerly from Manchuria south to Guangxi, and Sichuan to Anhui), North and South Korea (including Cheju Island) (but now probably extinct in both countries), Japan, Russia (a few places in Primorsky in the Far East), Taiwan (extinct in 1969, but subsequently re-introduced), and Viet Nam (probably now extinct). Wild populations are now very localized in China. In Japan, the species ranges widely from Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Awaji, Shodo, and others), Goto Islands, Ika, Yakushima, Mageshima, Kuchinoerabu-shima, Tsushima, and the Kerama Islands (introduced) (Okinawa Prefecture) (Abe 2005).

In China, C. n. mandarinus probably ranged across much of northeastern China, but by the mid-1930s its range had contracted to northeastern Jilin (IUCN 1972, Guo 1992), and is now believed to be extinct (Hu 1998, Smith and Xie 2008). C. n. grassianus ranged throughout western Shanxi Province, China (Ohtaishi and Gao 1990, Guo 1992), and is now believed to be extinct (Hu 1998, Smith and Xie 2008). C. n. kopschi ranged from the Yangtze River Basin eastward to the coast, and south as far as northern Guangdong Province (IUCN 1972); it remains in small numbers in southern China. C. e. taiouanus was widely distributed throughout Taiwan (Green 1989). Free ranging populations were extirpated in 1969, but captive individuals were re-introduced in 1989 (Smith and Xie 2008). C. n. pseudaxis was recorded from Cao Bang, Quang Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Hanoi, and Nghe Tinh provinces in Viet Nam (Dang Huy Huynh et al. 1990), but is probably now extinct in the wild (captive animals remain).

The species has been widely introduced. In the Philippines it was anciently introduced to Solo Island, with questions remaining as to its continued existence there. It was introduced in 17th century to Kerama Islands (Ryukyu Islands, Japan); and introduced in 19th-20th centuries to British Isles, mainland Europe (Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, western Russia, and Ukraine), New Zealand, USA, and small islands off Japan (Whitehead 1993, Wemmer 1998, Grubb, 2005). It is also widely farmed in Asia, particularly in China (Green et al. 2007, Smith and Xie 2008). Only the native, extant range is included in the distribution map.
Countries occurrence:
China; Japan; Russian Federation
Possibly extinct:
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Viet Nam
Regionally extinct:
Korea, Republic of
Taiwan, Province of China
Armenia (Armenia); Austria; Azerbaijan; Czech Republic; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Ireland; Lithuania; Madagascar; New Zealand; Philippines; Poland; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are no global population estimates. However, in summary, there is a large and growing population in Japan, and a stable population of 8,500-9,000 in Russia, but the species is in serious trouble in the rest of its range. There are probably fewer than 1,000 left in China, scattered in a few subpopulations across a once vast range. It is extinct in South Korea, and probably extinct in North Korea and Viet Nam. It also became extinct on Taiwan, but has been re-introduced there. More detailed information is provided below.

China: Four subspecies of Sika are present in mainland China of which three are threatened and one, C. n. mandarinus, is probably extinct. There are 400-500 C. n. sichuanicus in the extreme north of Sichuan and in southern Gansu Province (Hu 1998), as well in two other areas (Baxi and Beihe) of Sichuan (Guo 2000). C. n. kopschi occurs as five isolated small populations: in the Tianmu Mountains region of northern Zhejiang (less than 30 animals); in southern Anhui (70-100); near the border with Jiangsu, in Pengze, Jiangxi (150 animals); in southern Guangxi; and possibly in northern Guangdong. C. n. grassianus occurred in two separate and declining populations in western Shanxi but has not been reported for some years and may now be extinct (Ohtaishi and Gao 1990; Sheng Helin and Zhang Endi pers. comm., 1990). The total number in China was estimated to be no more than 1,000 animals, with populations fragments (Hu 1998). Sika are believed to be declining in all of their remaining range within China (Hu 1998, Guo 2000), although analyses of survival of C. n. sichuanicus in Tiebu Nature Reserve during the late 1980s suggest a possible reversal of that trend (Guo and Zheng 2005).

Korea: Sika was reportedly common and widespread in north and central Korea but declined severely during the Japanese occupation of the country. After liberation it proved impossible to rebuild populations naturally from the surviving dispersed animals in Hamgyong North province, so the DPRK government initiated a captive breeding programme (Won Hong Koo 1968). The genetic purity of these animals is unclear as is their relationship to the Sika held captive in DPRK nowadays. Sika is either very rare or extinct as a wild animal in DPR Korea (J.W. Duckworth in litt. 2008). If it survives in DPR Korea, it will be in the extreme northeastern part of the country (Won and Smith 1999). It no longer survives in the wild in South Korea (Won and Smith 1999), including on Cheju Island.

Japan: The species survives near heavily populated areas of Honshu, and their populations had been severely fragmented and reduced due to human activities (Yuasa et al. 2007). However, the Sika Deer population has been conspicuously increasing throughout Japan in recent years as hunting has been brought under control. On Hokkaido, for example, Sika have increased greatly during the last decades of the 20th century and the early 21st century (Agetsuma et al. 2007), and are now considered an agricultural and forest-plantation pest (Uno and Kaji 2006). Experimental hunting of males began in the 1950s, culling of females in the 1980s and hunting of females in the 1990s (Halley et al. 2006). C. n. keramae was introduced to the Kerama Islands from the Japanese mainland during the 17th century, and is reported to have subsequently developed as an insular form (IUCN 1972).

Russia: According to Kuzyakin (n.d.), there are 8,500-9,000 Sika Deer in Russia, and the population is stable.

Taiwan: C. n. taiouanus is endemic to Taiwan. It was extirpated by 1969 and re-introduced to Kenting National Park in 1988 (Green 1989).

Viet Nam: The species may now be extinct in the wild in this country. In 1990, two to four animals were reported from the western Nghe Tinh Mountains (Dang Huy Huynh et al. 1990), but it is highly doubtful that they survive there. Captive populations are present in Cuc Phuong National Park and Cat Ba National Park (Dang Huy Huynh et al. 1990).
Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This species prefers woodlands and forest with dense understorey, but forages in open grassy areas (Smith and Xie 2008). The main diet includes grass, some browse, and even fruit. The species is crepuscular, but sometimes active by day and night, and forages singly or in small herds, with dominant males with harems. Herds migrate to lower valleys in winter. Adults can live up to 25 years. Typically, mating occurs in autumn and gestation is about 210-223 days with young being born in April and May.

In Tiebu Nature Reserve, Sichuan, Sika were reported to forage preferentially in small patches of subalpine shrub and subalpine brush mixed with forest (Guo 2002). Sika fed on a wide variety of plant species in Teibu. In Viet Nam, diet of C. n. pseudaxis was reported to included browse and fruits (Dang Huy Huynh, Tran Van Duc, and Hoang Minh Khien pers. comm.). In Taiwan, C. n. taiouanus inhabited open forests and grasslands of valley bottoms and foothills below 300 m (McCullough 1974, Horng-jye Su undated). C. n. mandarinus and C. n. grassianus probably occurred in upland forests (IUCN 1972). C. n. keramae favours lowland forests and plains (WWF 1984). In Viet Nam, C. n. pseudaxis group size was 5-30 animals (Dang Huy Huynh, Tran Van Duc, and Hoang Minh Khien pers. comm.). In China, C. e. sichuanicus forms large aggregations during May-August (Sheng Helin and Zhang Endi pers. comm.). In Viet Nam, C. n. pseudaxis was thought to be primarily sedentary, although some seasonal movement took place depending on water availability (Dang Huy Huynh, Tran Van Duc and Hoang Minh Khien pers. comm.). In China, rut occurs during September-November. Fawning occurs in May-July following a 210-213 day gestation. Single fawns are the rule, but twins are sometimes observed among prime-aged females (Guo and Zheng 2005). Sexual maturity is reached at 1.5 years (Sheng and Ohtaishi 1993).

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: See Threats for details on Use and Trade.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species is threatened by habitat loss and hunting, particularly in Viet Nam, China, and the Koreas. The species is increasing in Japan (where it is hunted and culled to reduce crop and forest depredation), and stable in Russia and probably Taiwan. The subspecies in Viet Nam (C. n. pseudaxi) and Taiwan (C. n. taiouanus) were hunted for meat and antler velvet for use in traditional medicine (Dang Huy Huynh et al. 1990, McCullough 1974). In Viet Nam, velvet from Cervus nippon is traded in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Dang Huy Huynh, Tran Van Duc, and Hoang Minh Khien pers. comm.). All subspecies of Sika have been hunted widely in China during the past 100 years (Ohtaishi and Gao 1990) and in Korea. In Japan, Red Deer farming used to be very popular, but now animals are being released into the wild raising the risk of hybridization in the wild with Cervus nippon. Native and introduced populations are threatened by hybridization, with numerous populations of uncertain provenance or mixed ancestry (Grubb 2005). In China, in addition to continued loss of habitat, loss of genetic diversity through anthropogenic population subdivision is also a conservation concern (Lu et al. 2006).

C. n. pseudaxis in Viet Nam, and C. n. mandarinus and C. n. taiouanus in China, were probably extirpated in the wild as a result of hunting and habitat conversion for agriculture (Ratajszczak 1990; Dang Huy Huynh, Tran Van Duc and Hoang Minh Khien pers. comms.; IUCN 1972). The small captive population of C. n. pseudaxis in Cuc Phuong National Park is presently threatened by poaching. In China, C. e. sichuanicus is threatened by poaching outside Tiebu Nature Reserve (Sheng Helin and Zhang Endi pers. comm. 1990), and by encroachment on their habitats (including by deer farms; Hu 1998). In Japan, C. n. keramae has been almost extirpated by hunting, and remains only on unoccupied islets where competition with feral goats and habitat change constitute serious threats (Anonymous 1990). Water pollution is a serious problem for the deer (WWF 1984).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is heavily depleted in the wild in China, and two of the Chinese subspecies may be extinct (mandarinus and grassianus), and others are threatened. However, large herds exist in captivity in China to meet the demand for velvet antlers used in traditional Asian medicine.

The species occurs in a number of protected areas, including: C. n. sichuanicus in China's Tiebu Nature Reserve (Guo 2000, Guo and Zheng 2005), and Baihe Nature Reserve (Hu 1998); C. n. kopschi in China's Taohonglin Nature Reserve (Hu 1998); C. n. hortulorum in Russia's Dalnevostochny Morskoy, Kedrovaya Pad, Khankaisky, Lazovsky, and Sikhote-Alinsky Nature Reserves; and C. n. taiouanus in Taiwan's Kenting National Park, as a result of The Formosan Deer Restoration Project was initiated in 1984 to re-establish subspecies (Green 1989). Management activities for C. n. keramae have included filling of mine shafts, which posed threats to the deer, as well as the construction of drinking water facilities (IUCN 1972).

C. n. pseudaxis
The Vietnamese Sika Breeding and Conservation Programme was initiated in 1991 with a shipment of ten animals to Europe on breeding loan (Ratajszczak and Smielowski, undated). Recommended conservation actions include improving protection of Cuc Phuong National Park, with particular emphasis on control of poaching and development of a conservation education programme.

C. n. taiouanus
Recommended conservation actions include:
  1. Establish a peripheral hunting zone around Kenting National Park to benefit local people, and to minimize impact of deer encroaching into adjacent agricultural land.
  2. Expand the area available to the existing free ranging population.
  3. Plan, implement, and develop a fully integrated research program focused on the ecology of the free ranging population. Studies should include impact on vegetation and carrying capacity.
  4. Develop a long-term strategy for management of Kenting National Park.
  5. Plan the establishment of additional free-ranging populations elsewhere in Taiwan.
C. n. keramae
Recommended conservation actions include:
  1. Survey status of present populations and undertake studies of existing habitat to determine extent of habitat degradation. Remove feral goats as an urgent priority.
  2. Develop a management plan for habitat restoration.
  3. Develop a captive breeding programme using animals from surviving populations. Assess possible genetic differences between island populations.
  4. Assess attitudes of local people toward conservation, initiate regional conservation education program, and increase law enforcement if necessary.
C. n. mandarinus
and C. n. grassianus
Recommended conservation actions include surveys to determine whether or not these two subspecies survive. If populations can be found, activities should include field reconnaissance, population censuses, demographic surveys, ecological studies, and investigations into human use of the deer.

C. n. kopschi
Recommended conservation actions include securing protected habitat, and encourage community development options to mitigate threats, especially poaching.

C. n. sichuanicus
Recommended conservation actions include the implementation management plans in Tiebu and Baihe Nature Reserves, with a particular focus on combating poaching. In 1990, the management plan for Tiebu was being implemented and protection was adequate (Sheng Helin and Zhang Endi pers. comm.).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.4. Shrubland - Temperate
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.6. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Moist
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.4. Grassland - Temperate
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.6. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Seasonally Wet/Flooded
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.2. Artificial/Terrestrial - Pastureland
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
3. Species management -> 3.3. Species re-introduction -> 3.3.1. Reintroduction
3. Species management -> 3.4. Ex-situ conservation -> 3.4.1. Captive breeding/artificial propagation
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.2. National level
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.3. Sub-national level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.2. National level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.3. Sub-national level
6. Livelihood, economic & other incentives -> 6.1. Linked enterprises & livelihood alternatives

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:Yes
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:Yes
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.2. Small-holder farming
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.5. Motivation Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species -> 8.1.2. Named species (Cervus elaphus)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.1. Hybridisation

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species -> 8.1.2. Named species (Capra hircus)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.3. Introduced genetic material
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.1. Hybridisation

1. Research -> 1.1. Taxonomy
1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.1. Species Action/Recovery Plan
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Food - human
 Local : ✓   National : ✓ 

♦  Medicine - human & veterinary
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Sport hunting/specimen collecting
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Establishing ex-situ production *

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Citation: Harris, R.B. 2015. Cervus nippon. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41788A22155877. . Downloaded on 05 October 2015.
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