Asian deer species has an important conservation story
Thriving in zoos, species was declared extinct in the wild
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BRONX, NEW YORK – April 21, 2017 – The herd of Père David's deer (Elaphurus davidianus) at the WCS’s (Wildlife Conservation Society) Bronx Zoo just got a little larger. Four fawns were born in April and are on exhibit with the herd.
The four fawns, two males and two females, are all born to different mothers. A male and a female were born on April 7, and the other two deer were born on April 15.
The Père David's deer might seem somewhat unassuming, but the species has some adaptations unlike any other deer. They have long tails, branch-like antlers, and splayed hooves that would indicate that they are adapted to live in a marsh-like environment, but no one knows for sure how the species evolved or the environment it once lived in the wild.
Père David's deer, also known as milu, are endemic to China, but only fossil records give clues to the species’ original rage and habitat. Centuries of hunting and habitat loss drove the species to the brink of extinction. By the 1860’s the species was all but gone.
During the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), a herd of the deer were kept by the Emperor in the Nanyuang Royal Hunting Garden just outside of Beijing. The area was completely isolated from the outside world and heavily guarded.
A French missionary, Père Armand David, came across the garden and protected herd of deer in 1864. He was able to take possession of several animals which he smuggled out of China to Paris in 1866.
In later years, flooding of the Yongding River destroyed the Royal Garden and most of the herd escaped and were killed by hunters. The remaining animals in the garden were killed when the garden was occupied during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
The few Père David’s deer sent to France were bred for private collections throughout Europe. In the early 1900s, 18 animals were brought to an estate in the United Kingdom to breed in an effort to save the species from extinction.
Today, Père David’s deer exist only in human care. They roam in deer parks, ranches, zoos, and have returned to China to live in reserves. The species is classified as Extinct in the Wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Bronx Zoo has maintained a herd of Père David Deer since 1946 and, including the four new fawns, has produced 165 offspring over the years. The species is bred at the Bronx Zoo as part of the Species Survival Program (SSP), a cooperative breeding program designed to enhance the genetic viability of animal populations in zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
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