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Muntjac deer

Muntjac deer

Appearance

Muntjac are a small but stocky species of deer that stand at around 0.44 to 0.52m tall at the shoulder.

When fully grown males (bucks) weigh between 10 to 18kg as adults and females (does) weigh 9 to16kg. By comparison an average adult man in Britain is 1.77m high and weighs 79kg.

muntjac deer

Muntjac are a russet brown colour for most of the year, turning to a dull grey in winter.

Characteristically, muntjac have a ‘hunched’ appearance, as their rumps are higher than their shoulders. They have a wide, flat tail, which is raised erect to display a white underside when disturbed.

Muntjac males have small antlers on top of a long fur-covered base (pedicle). These are usually straight with no branching. The face of the male is striped with pronounced downward black lines, light coloured cheeks and very large facial glands below the eyes. The ears are oval-shaped. Does have no antlers and a dark crown patch on their heads.

Muntjac make very small hoof prints (slots), about 2.5cm long.

History, distribution & habitat

Muntjac Doe and KidMuntjac were brought from China to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in the early 20th century. They are now widespread and increasing in number and range. Deliberate releases and escapes from Woburn, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire led to the establishment of feral populations. Movement and release by humans led to their rapid spread across south and central England and Wales, however, north of the Humber distribution is patchy but reaches close to the Scottish border.

Muntjac like deciduous or coniferous forests, preferably with a diverse understorey. They are also found in scrub and overgrown urban gardens. Unlike other species of deer in Britain, muntjac do not cause significant damage to agricultural or timber crops. However, high densities may prevent coppice regeneration and the loss of some plants of conservation importance, such as primulas. Muntjac trophy hunting has only recently become popular so there is little tradition of muntjac stalking on country and forest estates. The most significant direct economic impact that muntjac have on human interests is in collisions with cars. However, this has welfare as well as economic implications.

Breeding, behaviour & lifecycle

Muntjac Buck with short antlersIn contrast to all other species of deer in Britain, muntjac do not have a defined breeding season (rut). Instead, they breed all year round and the does can conceive again within days of giving birth. Bucks may fight for access to does but remain unusually tolerant of subordinate males within their vicinity.

Does are capable of breeding at seven months old. After a gestation period of seven months, they give birth to a single kid and are ready to mate again within a few days.

Bucks can live up to 16 years and does up to 19 years, but these are exceptional.

Muntjac are generally solitary or found in pairs (doe with kid or buck with doe) although pair-bonding does not occur. Bucks defend small exclusive territories against other bucks whereas does' territories overlap with each other and with several bucks.

Also known as the ‘barking deer’, muntjac vocalise in many different situations. The bark is repeated and loud for its size. Muntjac also scream when frightened. Does and offspring communicate with a series of squeaks.

Muntjac are active throughout the 24-hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations subject to frequent disturbance. Peak activity is at dawn and dusk. Long periods are spent ‘lying up’, where the deer lies down to ruminate after feeding.

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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 

Muntjac – Managing an Alien Species by Charles Smith-Jones (2004) Coch-y-Bonddu Books
Stalking Muntjac by Graham Downing (2014) Quiller Publishing