The Persian fallow deer has been rescued from the brink of extinction by substantial conservation efforts. The tiny native populations of Iran have provided the base for all captive populations and for the reintroduced populations in Israel and elsewhere in Iran (1) (4) (7).
In 1960, the Iranian Game and Fish Department initiated the first conservation actions for the species with the designation of the Dez and Karkeh Wildlife Refuges around the remnant deer populations. Between 1964 and 1965, six deer were captured and transferred to the Dasht-e-Naz Wildlife Refuge, and individuals have since been transferred to several other protected sites in the country (1). This conservation action resulted in the total population in Iran, including captive individuals, increasing from less than 250 in the mid-1990s to 365 pure-bred deer by 2008 (1).
In Israel, the reintroduction of the regionally extinct Persian fallow deer was planned as part of a larger effort to reintroduce the animals of the Holy Scripture of Judaism (6). The Hai-Bar Carmel facility was established with the purpose of breeding, and possibly reintroducing, the species and was stocked with a founding colony consisting of four deer received from Germany in 1976 and four obtained from Iran in 1978 (4). The Iranian deer were originally secured in an agreement between General Yoffe, the head of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, and the Prince of Iran; however, the deal collapsed with the destabilisation of the Iranian government. Refusing to accept defeat, General Yoffe dispatched a zoologist to Iran carrying a blow-gun disguised as a cane with instructions to capture four live deer and deliver them to Israel (6). The deer were successfully captured and eventually flown into Israel (6).
By the mid-1990s the captive Hai-Bar Carmel herd was deemed large enough to support reintroduction (4), and in 1996, a reintroduction project began in and around the Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve in northern Israel (7) (8). Between 1996 and 2001, 124 deer were released into the Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve (7), and studies suggest that the chances of achieving a self-sustaining wild population are good (9). However, the project could now be at risk, as much of the natural area in the vicinity of the reserve is threatened by development (8). However, hopefully such dedicated conservation efforts will secure the future of the rare Persian fallow deer.