Dama mesopotamica 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Cervidae

Scientific Name: Dama mesopotamica
Species Authority: (Brooke, 1875)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Persian Fallow Deer, Mesopotamian Fallow Deer
Dama dama subspecies mesopotamica (Brooke, 1875)
Taxonomic Notes: Feldhamer et al. (1988) and Geist (1998) included Dama mesopotamica as a subspecies of Dama dama, though it was regarded as a separate species by Haltenorth (1959), Ferguson et al. (1985), Uerpmann (1987), and Harrison and Bates (1991). We follow Pitra et al. (2004) and Randi et al. (2001) in treating D. mesopotamica as a separate species, based on a major study on the evolution and phylogeny of old world deer.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered D ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2015-07-25
Assessor(s): Werner, Y.L., Rabiei, A., Saltz, D., Daujat, J. & Baker, K.
Reviewer(s): Brook, S.M. & McShea, W.J.
As a result of intensive hunting throughout prehistory and history this species, which was once abundant and widespread in the Near and Middle East, became comparatively rare throughout its range. Within the last 100 years it has twice been brought to the brink of extinction. The total wild population now contains more than 250 adults (including wild living re-introduced individuals) but it is questioned whether the re-introduced individuals in the second biggest population (Judean Hills, Israel) have produced viable offspring (i.e. they cannot definitively be considered "mature individuals"). It is not known whether there are any individuals remaining in the indigenous wild populations in Iran (Dez and Karkeh Wildlife Refuges). According to a precautionary approach the species qualifies for the Endangered category under criterion D. This species should be reassessed when further information becomes available on population size and the exact number of mature individuals.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2013 Endangered (EN)
2010 Endangered (EN)
2008 Endangered (EN)
2006 Vulnerable (VU)
1996 Endangered (EN)
1994 Endangered (E)
1990 Endangered (E)
1988 Endangered (E)
1986 Endangered (E)
1965 Very rare and believed to be decreasing in numbers

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Archaeological and historical data attest that Persian Fallow Deer was distributed from the western Iranian plateau to the Mediterranean and from Southern Anatolia to South Levant, which nowadays includes western Iran, Iraq, Israel, eastern Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and southeastern Turkey (e.g. Haltenorth 1959, Chapman and Chapman 1975, Uerpmann 1987, Hemami and Rabiei 2002, Daujat 2013, Vigne et al. 2015, Daujat et al. in prep.). It was thought that the geographic distribution of the two species of Fallow Deer – European and Persian – did not overlap. However, recent research suggests that the two might have co-existed and even hybridised in some areas of southeastern Turkey (Sykes and Baker pers. comm.).

The Persian Fallow Deer played a major role as game in the economic subsistence of numerous Late Glacial and Early Holocene human societies of the Near and Middle East, especially in Southern Levant during the Late Pleistocene (Davis 1982, Bar-Oz et al. 2013). However, it was during the Holocene period – from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to the Bronze Age (over six millennia), that it became of cultural significance on the island of Cyprus, after being purposely introduced by humans at the very end of the 9th millennium BC. This intentional translocation did not result a priori in domestication of Persian Fallow Deer on Cyprus at any time (Croft 1991, 2002, Davis 1994, Daujat 2013, Vigne et al. 2015, Daujat et al. in prep.). Although populations probably experienced depletion throughout the early Neolithic periods – PPNB and Aceramic – because of intense human hunting pressure and destruction of habitats/competition with domesticates, at least a partial human desertion of the island seems to have replenished the stock of Persian Fallow Deer (Croft 2002, Daujat 2013, Vigne et al. 2015, Daujat et al. in prep.). Despite an underlying concern towards more sustainable management until the Bronze Age, the growth of human density and destruction of its natural habitat, and hunting/poaching pressure, eventually brought the Persian Fallow Deer on Cyprus to its total extinction on the island sometime during the Late Medieval/early post-Medieval period (Croft 2002, Flourentzos 2002, Daujat 2013, Daujat et al. in prep.). On the continental mainland in Southern Levant, Persian Fallow Deer is known to have drastically decreased in importance in humans’ subsistence from the Natufian period until the Crusader periods in conjunction with its population in the wild for the very same reasons (Tsahar et al. 2009).

The Persian Fallow Deer is also reported outside its natural range in Egypt at least from 2nd millennium BC, probably as a menagerie animal (Kitagawa 2008). Persian Fallow Deer has been depicted in a wide variety of forms throughout its geographic range: from Bronze Age pottery on Cyprus to Assyrian relief artwork, Egyptian paintings and Mesopotamian cylinder-seal (e.g. Haltenorth 1959, Chapman and Chapman 1975, Uerpmann 1987, Flourentzos 2002, Kitagawa 2008).

By 1875 it was restricted to southwestern and western Iran, having disappeared from the rest of its range. In the early 1950s it was considered extinct, but a small population was rediscovered in southwestern Iran in 1956 and brought to Germany in order to start a breeding programme at the Opel Zoo, in Kronberg (Haltenorth 1959). The last documented surviving indigenous wild populations were found in the Dez Wildlife Refuge and Karkeh Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Iran (though the population in Karkeh has also been restocked with animals from the Dasht-e-Naz Wildlife Refuge), but it is unclear whether any true wild animals still remain in these areas today (A Rabiei. pers. comm. 2014).

There are reintroduced populations in Iran as follows: Dasht-e-Naz Wildlife Refuge in northern Iran, Semeskandeh Wildlife Refuge in northern Iran, Ashk and Kaboudan Islands in Lake Uromiyeh (Uromiyeh National Park), and the Miankotal enclosure in Arjan and Parishan Protected Area. All these reintroduced populations are either in enclosures or on islands in semi-captive conditions (A. Rabiei pers. comm. 2014).. Introductions to Shiri, Lavan, Kish Islands in the Persian Gulf were probably not successful.

In Israel, a reintroduction programme for Persian Fallow Deer has been underway since 1996 with more than 300 animals in the wild today, mainly in the north of the country (Galilee) but also in the Judean Mountains near Jerusalem. The breeding nucleus in Israel, at Hai-Bar Carmel Reserve, was founded in 1976 from three animals (two males and one female) from the Opel Zoo and four females from the Iranian population at the Dasht-e-Naz (Chapman 2010) facility in Iran. Some of the animals at the nearby Semeskandeh facility were received from Opel Zoo in 1973 and were suspected to be hybrids with European Fallow Deer. Until recently it was suspected that some of the deer transported to Israel were from Semeskandeh. However, all hybrids produced at Opel Zoo were reported to have been disposed of in 1965-66 (Jantschke 1991). Early genetics studies (using enzymes) show no evidence of hybridization in the descendants of the Opel Zoo animals transferred to Semeshkandeh (Pemberton 1990, Saltz 2013). A recent genetic study using seven microsatellite markers in Persian Fallow Deer from the modern Israeli herd and the Iranian population from the 1960s detected no evidence of hybridization (Fernández-García 2012). For the Iranian animals however, the possibility that hybridization has since occurred cannot be excluded.
Countries occurrence:
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Regionally extinct:
Iraq; Jordan; Lebanon; Palestinian Territory, Occupied; Syrian Arab Republic; Turkey
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The Persian Fallow Deer was thought to be extinct by the 1940s, but a small population of perhaps 25 animals was subsequently rediscovered in Khuzistan Province, Iran during the 1950s (Haltenorth 1959, Chapman and Chapman 1975). As of the mid 1990s, the total population in Iran (including captive and re-introduced animals) did not exceed 250. By 2004, the total Iranian population had increased to approximately 340 individuals (A. Rabiei pers. comm.).

In 2013 the Iranian populations totalled 371 individuals across 14 sites, Ashk Island is the largest population with 213 animals in semi-captive conditions. The 13 other considerably smaller populations are in fenced areas in other sites around the country. It is not known whether any truly wild individuals remain in the Dez and Kharkeh Wildlife Refuges (A. Rabiei pers. comm. 2014).  Following reintroduction in Israel (Saltz et al. 2011) there are now over 250 individuals in the north of the country around the Kziv Reserve (western Galilee) and this population is increasing (D. Saltz pers. comm. 2014). There are also approximately 50 individuals (circa 20 radio-collared females and a similar number of males; N. Werner pers. comm. 2014) in and around the Soreq Nature Reserve, Judean Hills, in central Israel. In 2014, two new reintroduction projects were initiated near Sasa (Berger-Tal et al. 2011), about 50 km east of the Kziv Reserve, and on the Hermon Mountain ridge, north of the Golan Heights. Although the total wild population now contains more than 250 adults (including wild living re-introduced individuals), it is questioned whether the re-introduced individuals in the second biggest population (Judean Hills, Israel) have produced viable offspring (i.e. they cannot definitively be considered "mature individuals").

There are approximately 270 individuals in captivity in Hai Bar Carmel Reserve, Biblical Zoo of Jerusalem and other facilities (A. Dolev pers. comm., T. Dickstein pers. comm., ZIMS). Outside of Iran and Israel there are approximately 160 individuals in various zoos, mainly in Europe (ZIMS).
Current Population Trend: Increasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The Persian Fallow Deer occupies a range of woodlands, such as tamarisk, oak and pistachio woodlands. The wild population utilizes riparian forest thickets (Haltenorth 1959, McTaggart-Cowan and Holloway 1978). The rut is during August and early September, and calving at the end of March to early April, following a gestation period of approximately 229 days (Chapman and Chapman 1975).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is still hunted illegally for food and sport.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species has experienced numerous threats such as intensive hunting pressure, habitat destruction, natural predation and competition with livestock, and this led to its long decline and near extinction. Today in Iran, habitat destruction, competition with livestock, lack of freshwater and increasing levels of tick infestation are considered significant threats to the species, as well as the effects of small population size, such as isolation and inbreeding (Hemami and Rabiei 2002, A Rabiei pers. comm. 2014). In Israel, while there is no evidence of deleterious inbreeding effects, the population is susceptible as genetic diversity is extremely low. Predation by wild and feral canids also has a considerable impact on newly released animals making reintroduction difficult.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species has an important and interesting conservation history (see Daujat 2013 for a complete review). In 1960, the Iranian Game and Fish Department initiated the first conservation actions by designating the Dez Wildlife Refuge and Karkeh Wildlife Refuge around the site of this animal's re-discovery. A male and a female calf were bought from local people in southwest Iran by a team from Von Opel’s Zoo in Germany in 1957–1958. In 1960 the first fawn was conceived in Opel (a female) but the male died before conceiving a male. Subsequently a stag was sent to Germany in 1964. In the interim the female was cross bred with European males (Hemami and Rabiei 2002). The hybrids were disposed of in 1965-1966 (Jantschke 1991). Between 1964 and 1965, a 400 strong team captured six deer within the protected areas and transferred them to the Dasht-e-Naz Wildlife Refuge, where they were managed in a 55 hectare enclosure, and where the population increased. Iran received seven animals from Germany in 1972 which were suspected hybrids, and kept them isolated from the pure-bred Persian population at Dasht-e-Naz. This population totalled 30 animals in 1977 and was transferred to a six hectare enclosure in Semeskandeh Wildlife Refuge to allow more space for the pure-bred population, and to prevent gene exchange between them. From 1977, specimens of pure-bred Persian fallow deer were transferred to new sites in different parts of Iran including its original habitat in Karkheh Wildlife Refuge. Signs of deer were still presented in Karkheh prior to the translocation (Hemami and Rabiei 2002). Subsequently in 1995 the new enclosure (180 ha) was established in Semeskandeh Wildlife Refuge for transferred pure-bred deer from Dasht-e-Naz, in order to reduce the population density in Dasht-e-Naz (Rabiei 2002).

The four females transported to Israel came from this enclosure and in combination with two males and a female from the Opel Zoo formed the breeding nucleus that supports the Israeli reintroduction programme. There are currently four reintroduction sites: three in the north (in and around the Kziv Reserve, near Sasa, and in the Golan Heights) and one in the Judean Mountains (near Jerusalem). The Kziv population is increasing through on-going releases and reproduction of released animals, it is now estimated at 250 animals. The Judean Mountains population is estimated at 50 individuals and is expanding slowly. These conservation measures have brought the species back from the brink of extinction, and the population is gradually increasing. However, the two truly wild populations in Iran remain seriously threatened and need strict protection in order to recover, although extinction in the wild cannot be ruled out.

Recommended conservation actions within Iran have been compiled by Rabiei (1995, 2002, 2003), and include: further population surveys, ecological and genetic research, strengthening of existing management of protected areas, creation of new protected areas, promote protection of the last remaining truly wild populations in the Dez Wildlife Refuge and Karkeh Wildlife Refuge, re-introducing animals to these two populations, strengthening the existing captive breeding programs, and establishing a collaborative captive breeding programme and reintroductions across the historic range of the species. In Israel, future plans include the continuation of the captive breeding and reintroductions, to create a continuous population in the north of the country. Control of overabundant predators will be necessary to ensure the continued success of the reintroductions.

A thorough knowledge and understanding of the genetic aspects of Persian Fallow Deer is important for its management. Further work is therefore required to detect the genetic integrity of the contemporary Persian Fallow Deer using an increased number of samples and polymorphic markers, since it is advised that at least 30 markers should be used to accurately detect evidence of hybridization (Boecklen and Howard 1997). This will help guide a specific conservation policy that is currently lacking and as such puts the last wild stocks of Persian Fallow Deer at risk of extinction.

The species is included on CITES Appendix I (as Dama dama mesopotamica). An International Studbook of Persian Fallow Deer has been issued every year since 1991, registering all of the animals in zoological parks and providing estimates of wild population numbers (Rudloff 1991-2015).

Citation: Werner, Y.L., Rabiei, A., Saltz, D., Daujat, J. & Baker, K. 2015. Dama mesopotamica. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T6232A22164332. . Downloaded on 01 December 2015.
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