Eld’s deer (Rucervus eldii)

Also known as: Brow-antlered deer, thamin
Synonyms: Cervus eldii
  
French: Cerf D'Eld
Spanish: Ciervo De Elde
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyCervidae
GenusRucervus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 1.5 – 1.8 m (2)
Tail length: 20 – 30 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 114 cm (3)
Antler length: 99 cm (3)
Weightup to 150 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

Eld’s deer is known for the impressive bow or lyre shaped antlers of the stags, which sweep back in a single, long curve, with a smaller branch growing towards the front of the head (5). The antlers are replaced every year, and reach their largest size during the breeding season (3). This majestic species possesses the usual elegant stature of Cervus deer with its long, thin legs, slender body, short tail and large ears (2). The coarse coat is reddish-brown to grey (3), with paler underparts, redder in summer, and darker brown in winter (2) (3). Stags are larger and heavier than females, tend to be darker in colour, and possess a thick mane of long hair around the neck (2). Young Eld’s deer have white spots that eventually fade and disappear (3).

Eld’s deer is indigenous to South and Southeast Asia, with three, geographically isolated subspecies recognised today (1) (9). The Manipur brow-antlered deer (R. e. eldii) is confined to a small population in Manipur, India; the Thailand brow-antlered deer (R. e. siamensis) is found in Cambodia, Hainan Island (China), Lao People's Democratic Republic and was also recorded in Thailand and Viet Nam, where it is now believed to be regionally extinct; the Burmese brow-antlered deer (R. e. thamin) occurs in central Myanmar and is now believed to be extinct in western Thailand (1) (10).

The Manipur brow-antlered deer (R. e. eldii) inhabits areas of floating vegetation known as “phumdi”, while the Thailand brow-antlered deer (R. e. siamensis) and the Burmese brow-antlered deer (R. e. thamin) are found in dry dipterocarp forest (11) (12), lowland valleys and plains, (avoiding dense forest and coastal areas), and occasionally seasonally flooded forest (2) (6) (11).

Throughout most of the year, female Eld’s deer are solitary, or occur in pairs with their young, (10), except during the mating season when females and their young congregate in herds of up to 50 individuals (2). Males are also generally solitary, except during spring when mating begins (6). The breeding season in China is from February to June, with a single fawn (occasionally twins) born from September to January, after a gestation of around 34 weeks; in India, calving occurs from mid-October to the end of December (6). The Thailand brow-antlered deer (R. e. siamensis) and the Burmese brow-antlered deer (R. e. thamin) breed from February to April and give birth between October and November (10). Like most cervids, mothers hide their young immediately after birth, concealing them in the long grass. Young are weaned at around five months and become sexually mature at one and a half to two years of age (2).

Eld’s deer are active most of the time, but tend to seek shelter from the midday sun (10). This deer species undergo short migrations in order to find water during the dry season and food during the growing season (9). Eld’s deer are closely associated with areas that are seasonally burned, eating the new grasses that emerge after the burn (9). The diet includes a variety of grasses, fruit, herbaceous and wetland plants and this species is known to graze and browse opportunistically on cultivated crops from nearby fields, such as rice, lentils, maize, peas and rape (2) (9).

Eld’s deer are widely hunted as food and for their antlers (6). In particular, Eld’s deer are thought to have been hunted to feed the armies during many Asian wars (10). They are a prized game animal because of their impressive antlers and hides, which are sold in the local markets (6). Habitat destruction due to expanding agriculture has also had a major impact on this rare species. In Manipur, the Manipur brow-antlered deer (R. e. eldii) population has declined primarily due to wetland reclamation for grazing, cultivation and fish farming (6). Very little suitable habitat is protected; only one percent of the protected forests in Southeast Asia are suitable for Eld’s deer (11). Even within protected areas, these threats continue. The Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary, Myanmar, is one of the last strongholds of the species, yet the dipterocarp forest within it continues to be degraded under great pressure from local communities for cropland and timber (7). Sadly, there is often a lack of funding and political will for protection (12). Due to their highly fragmented distribution this species is also at risk from inbreeding and loss of genetic variation (12).

Eld’s deer occur in a number of protected areas throughout its range. The entire Manipur brow-antlered deer (R. e. eldii) population now resides within Keibul Lamjao National Park, Manipur (1), created in 1977 specifically to protect this subspecies (6). Additionally, local projects have helped raise public awareness and support for conserving the deer (6). Hainan Datian Nature Reserve on Hainan Island, China, was established in 1976 specifically to help the Thailand brow-antlered deer (R. e. siamensis) subspecies recover, with the population now growing an average of 15 percent annually (8). This population has become so large, in fact, that large numbers have been translocated to other parts of the island (8). Kyatthin and Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuaries were established in Myanmar to protect the Burmese brow-antlered deer (R. e. thamin) subspecies, and a community education project was initiated in 1995 to raise local awareness about the plight of the deer and the protected status of the Kyatthin Wildlife Sanctuary (6). Captive populations exist around the world, but inbreeding is common and cooperative cross-breeding is required if captive populations are to be genetically varied enough for any future reintroduction programmes into the wild (12).

For more information on Eld’s deer see:

Authenticated (07/04/08) by Dr Bill McShea, Research Biologist, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institute.
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/AboutUs/Staff/BiosAndProfiles/McSheaBill.cfm

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. World Deer (November, 2006)
    http://www.worlddeer.org/thamin.html
  3. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. CITES (January, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Pickrell, J. (2002) New Population of Rare Asian Deer Found in Laos. National Geographic News (November, 2006)
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/09/0920_020920_deer.html
  6. McShea, W.J., Aung, M., Poszig, D., Wemmer, C. and Monfort, S. (2001) Forage, habitat use and sexual segregation by a tropical deer (Cervus Eldi Thamin) in a dipterocarp forest. Journal of Mammalogy, 82(3): 848 - 857.
  7. McShea, W.J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  8. McShea, W.J., Koy, K., Clements, T., Johnson, A., Vongkhamheng, C. and Aung, M. (2005) Finding a needle in the haystack: Regional analysis of suitable Eld’s deer (Cervus eldi) forest in Southeast Asia. Biological Conservation, 125(1): 101 - 111.
  9. Balakrishnan, C.N., Monfort, S.L., Gaur, A., Singh, L. and Sorenson, M.D. (2003) Phylogeography and conservation genetics of Eld’s deer (Cervus eldi). Molecular Ecology, 12: 1 - 10.
  10. Wemmer, C. (1998) Deer: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Deer Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1998-040.pdf
  11. National Zoo (November, 2006)
    http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/EndangeredSpecies/EldsDeer/
  12. China.org.cn: Rare Eld's Deer Moving to New Homes (November, 2006)
    http://www.china.org.cn/english/2004/Nov/111780.htm