Elaphurus davidianus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Elaphurus davidianus
Species Authority: Milne-Edwards, 1866
Common Name/s:
English Père David's Deer, Pere David's Deer

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct in the Wild ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Jiang Zhigang & Harris, R.B.
Reviewer/s: Black, P.A. & Gonzalez, S. (Deer Red List Authority)
This species is listed as Extinct in the Wild, as all populations are still under captive management. The captive population in China has increased in recent years, and the possibility remains that free-ranging populations can be established some time in the near future. When that happens, its Red List status will need to be reassessed.
1996 Critically Endangered
1994 Endangered (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Endangered (IUCN 1990)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species is endemic to China. Père David’s deer has been recovered from the brink of extinction and has become a classic example of how to rescue a highly threatened species (Ebenehard 1995). In the mid 1980s, Père David’s deer was re-introduced into captive facilities in China, and populations established in Beijing, Dafeng, Tianezhou and Yuanyang.

Fossils of Elaphurus bifurcatus, E. chinanensis chia, E. lantianensis have been excavated from the region east of Xi’an and south of Harbin. The modern species of Elaphurus, Père David’s deer (Milu in Chinese) evolved in the Pliocene period of the Tertiary, according to fossils excavated in southern Japan. During the Pleistocene period, it was known from Manchuria (Hofmann, 2007). During the Holocene, P. davidianus was restricted to swamps and wetlands in the region south of 43°N and east of 110°E in mainland China (Cao 1992, Zhou, 2007). However, the distribution of P. davidianus shrank and its population declined due to hunting and land reclamation in the swamp areas as human population expanded (Jiang and Li, 1999). P. davidianus had largely disappeared in the wild by the late 19th century, and the last wild animal was shot near the Yellow Sea in 1939.

However, during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), the Nanyuang Royal Hunting Garden contained a herd of P. davidianus in its 200 km² hunting ground. This hunting garden in the southern suburbs of Beijing was predominantly a wetland, consisting of swamps, ponds and lakes crossed by the Yongding River. The area had been sealed off from the outside world since the Yuan Dynasty (1205-1368) as a royal garden. The French missionary Père Armand David “discovered” P. davidianus in the Nanyuan Royal Hunting Garden in 1864. Realising that the deer was an unknown species to the West, he persuaded the wardens to give him hinds and skeletons of an adult male, an adult female and a young male, and sent them to Paris in 1866, where the species was named Père David’s deer by Milne-Edwards. In 1895, the wall of the Nanyuan Hunting Garden was destroyed by a heavy flood of the Yongding River, and most of the Père David’s deer escaped and were hunted. Only 20-30 animals survived in the garden. Then in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the garden was occupied by troops and the remaining deer were shot and eaten.

However, before the demise of the royal herd of Père David’s deer in the Nanyuan Royal Hunting Garden in 1900, the deer had been introduced into private deer collections in the United Kingdom, France and Germany. During the first decade of the 20th century, the 11th Duke of Bedford in the United Kingdom gathered the last 18 Père David’s deer in the world to form a breeding herd at the Woburn Abbey, England. Only 11 of these deer were capable of reproducing (Bedford, 1951-52). Nevertheless, the heavily inbred Père David’s deer safely passed though the genetic bottleneck of inbreeding and adopted the vast open parkland of an English country estate (Jones et al. 1983).

The captive population started to increase (though with a setback during the First World War due to food shortage), and since the Second World War, the animals started to be spread through captive facilities worldwide, with the first captive animals being sent back to Beijing Zoo in 1956. More recently deer have been sent to China into managed, fenced situation in Beijing, Dafeng, Tianezhou and Yuanyang.
Regionally extinct:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: After decades of ex situ conservation, the species breeds successfully in captivity (Beck and Wemmer 1983). In China there are now fenced populations in Beijing, Dafeng, Tianezhou and Yuanyang.

The first conservation reintroduction of Père David’s deer to China included two groups, of 20 deer (5 males : 15 females) and 18 deer (all females), in 1985 and 1987, respectively. All 38 deer were donated by the Marques of Tavistock of Woburn Abbey, and the transportation was sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). After a careful search and evaluation by a group of zoologists, botanists, wildlife managers and officers, the relic site of the Nanyuang Royal Hunting Garden in the southern suburbs of Beijing was chosen as the site of re-introduction, creating the Beijing Milu Park (39°07'N, 116°03'E), with an area of 60 ha. The deer in the park have received supplemental feeding year round (Jiang et al. 2000a).

The second re-introduction of E. davidianus was carried out in August of 1986, organized by former Ministry of Forestry and WWF. A group of 39 Père David’s deer was selected from five zoological gardens in the United Kingdom, with the deer mainly from the Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. An extensive search which covered a vast area in eastern China for a potential reintroduction site was conducted before a decision was made. The Dafeng State-Owen Forestry Farm was chosen, on the Yellow Sea coast in eastern China in a lightly populated area (semi-fossils of Père David’s deer have been excavated from the neighbouring counties, so this site is probably in its natural habitat). The introduced herd was released into three fenced paddocks, each about 100 ha in area. The reserve purchased another 30 km² land in 1995, more than doubling its original size. In 1997, the Dafeng Milu Natural Reserve was approved by the National Nature Reserve Commission as a national nature reserve. The Dafeng Milu Nature Reserve has the potential to host a large population of Père David’s deer. The reserve has kept the reintroduced Père David’s deer and their offspring on its land, and in 1998 the first group of deer was released from the paddocks into the wider reserve (Hu and Jiang 2002). In 2003, and 2006 another two groups of deer were released from the paddocks. There were 950 Père David’s deer in the reserve in 2006. The annual average population growth rate of deer in the reserve was 17.01%. This Père David’s deer conservation strategy calls for further expanding of the Dafeng Milu Nature Reserve (Jiang et al., 2000b).

The Beijing Milu Park is in a suburb of the national capital with a limited area and is engulfed by city development, whereas the Dafeng Milu Nature Reserve is located in a remote costal region with little human settlement, where it is possible to acquire more land for conservation. Therefore, the Beijing Milu Park while keeping a healthy nuclear breeding herd of about 100 deer at the park, has shipped Père David’s deer to other sites in east China (Yang, 2007). The translocations thus reduced the grazing pressure on the park vegetation and expanded the distribution range of the Père David’s deer in the country. The average annual population growth rate for Père David’s deer in Beijing Milu Park from 1987-1997 was 17.3%. This Père David’s deer conservation strategy calls for an expansion of this artificial dispersal of animals to establish new sites (Jiang et al., 2000b).

E. davidianus from the Beijing Milu Park have been relocated to the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in eastern China and Hainan Island in the South China Sea. In October 1993, a group of 30 Père David’s deer (8 males : 22 females) arrived and was released in a paddock on a small peninsular in the Yangtze River, Tianezhou (29°49'N,112°33'E). This site was then established as the Tianezhou Milu Nature Reserve in 1993. The size of the reserve is 11.67 km². Another group of 34 Père David’s deer (10 males : 24 females) was transferred from the Beijing Milu Park to the Tianezhou paddock in the following year to enlarge the population. An additional 30 deer (15 males : 15 females) were released into the paddock of the reserve in 2002. The relocated deer reproduced in the second year after the relocation (Yang et al, 2002). By the end of calving season of 2006, there were 522 E. davidianus in the Tianezhou Milu National Nature Reserve. The annual average population growth rate was 22.2%. The birth rate and population growth rate in Tianezhou were significantly higher whereas the mortality rate was significantly lower than those of the Dafeng.

In November, 2002, 30 E. davidianus (14 males : 16 females) from Beijing Milu Park and 20 from the Dafeng Milu Nature Reserve were introduced to Yuanyang Forestry Farm, Henan. These deer are in an enclosure on the Yuanyang Yellow River Nature Reserve (35°11'N, 114°15'E). In 2006, there were 53 deer in the Yuanyang Yellow River Nature Reserve paddock, but the sex ratio was predominately male biased (38 males : 15 females) (Li et al. 2007).

Currently, there are a total of 53 herds of E. davidianus in China. Nine herds have fewer than 25 deer, 75.5% have fewer than 10 deer (Yang et al., 2003). Such a small herd size raise question about the effective population size and health of population genetics, since those herds are isolated and there is no gene exchange. The artificially dispersed E. davidianus herds are similar to a meta-population. The viability of the meta-population depends on the man-made gene exchange process by the managers.
Population Trend: Increasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Studies have been carried out on the behavior, ecology and reproduction of Père David’s deer in Beijing since 1985, in Dafeng since 1986, and in Tianezhou since 2001. This species lives in low-lying grasslands and reed beds, often in seasonally flooded areas such as the lower Yangtze River valley and coastal marshes. It eats grass, reeds and leaves of bushes, can swim well, and spend long periods in water. It lives in single sex ormaternal herds. Animals reach maturity during second year. Gestation is 270-300 days. One, rarely two young are born. These are weaned in 10-11 months. Adults live up to 18 years. Data from the Dafeng Reserve suggests that female E. davidianus establish a home range of approximately 1 km² (Hu and Jiang 2002).
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The species became extinct in the wild due to habitat loss and hunting. The size of the reintroduced population was only 120 in 1993 (Cao 1993), although has increased to over 2,000 since that time (Yang et al. 2008). Low genetic diversity has been identified as a long-term threat by Zeng et al. (2007) and Yang et al. (2008). It is unclear how much native habitat remains on which E. davidianus can exist in a free-ranging state.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: It is listed on the Chinese Red List as Extinct in the Wild, and on the China Key List - I. The present re-introduced populations are contained within enclosures and are essentially still subject to captive management.

Recommended conservation action includes:
1. Establish additional populations when and where appropriate, with the aim of re-establishing a genuinely wild, free-ranging population.
2. Establish a genetic management programme of all populations in China.
3. Develop conservation education programmes to raise conservation awareness among the local people and general public.

Following a trial release of this species in the Dafeng Reserve, China, Hu and Jiang (2002) concluded that future releases will necessitate either natural or artificial boundaries to alleviate conflict between introduced E. davidianus and farmers, on whose land the deer are likely to stray. These authors suggest a reintroduction model based on that of Oryx leucoryx in Oman (Stanley Price 1989).

Bibliography [top]

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