Pere David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

Also known as: Milu
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyCervidae
GenusElaphurus (1)
SizeAntler length: 80 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 120 cm (2)

Classified as Extinct in the Wild (EW) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Almost driven to extinction, this deer now only survives in captivity (1) (3). Pere David’s deer is named after Father (‘Pere’ in French) David, who observed the last remaining Chinese herd and inspired a drive to bring them back from the brink of extinction (4). The Chinese people call this mammal ‘sze pu shiang’ which translates as ‘none of the four’. This strange name refers to the deer’s appearance as it looks like it has the neck of a camel, hooves of a cow, the tail of a donkey, and antlers of a deer (5). Indeed it does have a donkey-like tail which ends in a black tuft, and the ‘neck of a camel’ description refers to the long slender neck of this deer. The head is also unusually long and slender, with small pointed ears and large eyes (5). Adult males (stags) do bear antlers and, unusually, there may be two pairs of antlers per year. The summer antlers are the larger set, and are dropped in November following the rutting season. The second set then appear in January and are lost a few weeks later. Unique among deer, this species has antlers with a main branched anterior segment, with the points extending backwards (2). This deer’s summer coat is reddish tan in colour and becomes woollier and dark grey in the winter. The underside is a cream colour and along the spine there is also a distinctive darker stripe. Juveniles are spotted with pale flecks (5).

The Pere David’s deer occurs in China, in the 1,000 hectare Dafeng Nature Reserve, where it was reintroduced (from a European captive population) after China’s wild population became extinct over 1,000 years ago (3). There are also internationally held stocks (3).

This species’ original habitat is thought to have been swampy, reed covered marshlands. The Dafeng Nature Reserve, where it now occurs, is a seasonally flooded coastal marsh site (3).

Since this deer is so rare in the wild, the only observations of its behaviour come from captive populations (5). This species is social and lives in large herds, except before and after the breeding season, or 'rut', in June. At these times males leave the herd to feed intensively and build up strength, and before the rut, females bunch together in several groups (6). A stag joins each group of females and engages in fights with rival males using its antlers, teeth and forelegs (2). The successful stags win dominance and, as the fittest males, are able to mate with the females. During the rutting season males do not feed, as every moment is spent trying to establish dominance over other males. Therefore, after leaving the females, males will begin feeding again and quickly regain weight. After a gestation period of 288 days, females give birth to one or two fawns (6).

As inhabitants of open marshland and plains, this deer was easily hunted and suffered huge population losses in the 19th century (5). At this time the Emperor of China established a large herd in his ‘Imperial Hunting Park’ where the deer thrived. Pere David, a French missionary, became fascinated by these animals and persuaded the Emperor to allow some deer to be sent to Europe (6). Shortly after this, in May 1865, there were catastrophic floods in China, killing the entire population of Pere David’s deer. Fortunately the captive populations in Europe bred well, and in 1986 a small group of 39 individuals was reintroduced to the Dafeng Nature Reserve in China (3).

The present reintroduced population within the Dafeng Nature Reserve is contained within enclosures, where it is subject to captive management and is protected from hunting. Over the years, this population has increased in numbers, and it is hoped that at some point in the future, a free-ranging population could be established in China (1) (3). This species was saved from the brink of extinction and is making a slow but steady recovery. It is, however, dependant on conservation measures and captive management and so it is essential that these efforts are continued (3).

For more information on Pere David's deer, visit:

For more information on conservation in China see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Wemmer, C. (1998) Deer, Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  4. Animal Diversity (January, 2004)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Elaphurus_davidianus.html
  5. Ultimate Ungulate (January, 2004)
    http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Artiodactyla/Elaphurus_davidianus.html
  6. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.