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Chinese water deer

Chinese water deer


Chinese water deer are a small species of deer that stand at around 0.50m to 0.55m tall at the shoulder.

When fully grown they weigh between 11 to 18kg. Male and female deer are of similar size and weight. By comparison an average adult man in Britain is 1.77m high and weighs 79kg.

Chinese water deer

Chinese water deer are a russet brown colour for most of the year, their coat turning a dull grey in winter.

Chinese water deer lack any distinguishable markings at the rear. They have short tails.

Chinese water deer do not have antlers but males (bucks) do have prominent ‘tusks’ and females have shorter, less visable ones. These are used in a similar fashion to antlers for display and as weapons. Facially, they have large rounded ears and a teddy bear–like appearance.

Chinese water deer make small hoof prints (slots), about 4cm long.

History, distribution & habitat

chinese water deer ukChinese water deer were first kept at London Zoo in 1873 but escaped from Whipsnade Zoo in 1929. Numbers increased through introductions into deer parks and subsequent escapes and releases and the British population are now thought to account for 10% of the world's total. Distribution is mainly in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Norfolk with a few scattered sightings elsewhere. Preferred habitats include reed beds, river shores, woodlands and fields making the wet fenlands of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk ideal. They are selective feeders taking small morsels from nutritious plants, especially herbs, but may take woody browse, grasses, and sedges if food is limited.

Due to low local densities and restricted national distribution, Chinese water deer are of little national economic significance. Locally they may browse the tops from root crops in winter when other food sources are in short supply, but they do not cause damage to trees. Their low density and restricted range also mean that the stalking market for Chinese water deer is very small.

Breeding, behaviour & lifecycle

Solitary Chinese water deerDuring the rut bucks and does form pairs and defend territories during November and December remaining together until April. As with some other deer species, bucks perform parallel walks with invading rivals and only fight if their dominance order is not established using this method. Unlike antlered species, fighting in Chinese water deer rarely results in fatalities but injuries are common.

Chinese water deer are solitary except when mating but may form pairs or small groups at high density. Bucks are particularly aggressive and do not tolerate the presence of other bucks. Both sexes give a short bark when alarmed or as a warning. While chasing other deer, bucks make a rapid chattering sound called ‘whickering’. During courtship, a buck emits whistles and squeaks. Both sexes scream when chased.

Does give birth from May to July after a six to seven-month gestation. They can produce up to six fawns but one to three is more usual. Up to 40% of fawns die within the first four weeks of life. Lifespan is estimated at up to six years.

Chinese water deer are active throughout the 24-hour period with the peak time of activity around dusk. After feeding, long periods are spent ‘lying up’ where the deer lie down to ruminate.

pdf Download species leaflet (4.15 MB)

Download distribution & identification poster

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Further Reading

Muntjac and Water Deer - Arnold Cooke

Muntjac and Water Deer: Natural History, Environmental Impact and Management by Arnold Cooke 

Cooke, A. and Farrell, L. (1998) Chinese water deer. The Mammal Society, London and the British Deer Society, Fordingbridge.
Corbet, G. B and Harris, S. (eds) (1991) The handbook of British Mammals. Blackwell Scientific Publications, London.

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