Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)
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Recognition. A small species intermediate between muntjac and roe deer. No antlers but large protruding tusks in bucks, which are generally only visible in adults. The tusks are used as weapons during the rut and in defence against predators. Ears large and rounded giving a "teddy bear" like appearance. Coat a russet-brown in summer pale to grey-brown in the winter. Water deer lack the white caudal patch of roe deer.
Adult size. 11 to 18 kg, 50 to 55cm at shoulder. Little variation between sexes.
Life span. Limited data, up to 6 years. Up to 40% of fawns die within the first four weeks of life.
Status. IUCN Red Data Book listed as "lower risk, near threatened" in China. The British population is thought to account for 10% of the world's population.
UK distribution. Currently restricted to Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk with a few scattered sightings elsewhere.
Food & feeding. Selective feeders that take small morsels from nutritious plants, especially herbs but may take woody browse, grasses and sedges if food is limiting.
Habitat. Reed beds, river shores, woodlands and fields. A good diversity of plants in the understorey is important.
Origins & history. The Chinese water deer's tusks indicate that it is a very primitive form of deer. Tusks were developed as weapons by deer before antlers evolved. Chinese water deer were first kept at London Zoo in 1873 but escaped from Whipsnade Zoo after introduction there in 1929. Originally being centred around their site of escape they slowly spread to surrounding areas of suitable habitat.
Introductions into deer parks around the country, and subsequent escapes and releases, have facilitated their spread, although wet habitats in the fens of Cambridgeshire and the Norfolk Broads seem to provide them with the best habitat in which to thrive.
Social organisation. 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.
Vocalisation. Both sexes give a short bark when alarmed or as a warning. While chasing other deer, bucks make a rapid chattering sound called whickering. Whistling and squeaking is emitted by the buck as he follows a doe during courtship. Both sexes scream when chased.
The rut. Bucks and does form pairs and defend territories during November and December and remain together until April. Bucks perform parallel walks with invading rivals, as do other deer species, and only fight if their dominance order is not identified using this method. Unlike antlered species, fighting in Chinese water deer rarely results in fatality but injuries are common.
Breeding. Does give birth during May to July after a six to seven month gestation. Up to 6 fawns may be born, but 1 to 3 fawns is more usual.
Activity. Chinese water deer are active throughout the 24-hour period. The peak time of activity is around dusk. After feeding, long periods are spent "lying up", which is where the deer lies down to ruminate.
Economic factors. Due to their 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 means that the stalking market for Chinese water deer is very small.
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.