Père David's Deer

(Elaphurus davidianus)




Facts about this animal

The Père David's deer reaches a head-body length of up to 190 cm, a tail length of about 50 cm and stands 115-120 cm tall at the shoulder. The body-weight ranges from 135-200 kg. The head is long and slender with large eyes, very large antorbital glands, a naked nose pad and and small, pointed ears. the antlers are very special in that the tines long are pointing backward, while the main beam extends almost directly upward. Another strange feature of the antlers is that there may be two pairs per year.


The summer antlers are the larger set, and are dropped in November, after the June-August rut. The second set, if they appear, are fully grown by January, and are dropped a few weeks later. The tail is long with a dark tuft at the end. The hooves are large and spreading, and make clicking sounds (as in the reindeer) when the animal is moving. The coat is ochre to reddish tan coloured in summer, and has the unique feature of having long wavy guard hairs throughout the year. In winter it becomes woolier, changing to duller grey, with the undersides a bright cream colour. Along the shoulders and down the spine is a darker stripe. There is a mane on the neck and throat.

Père David's deer become sexually mature at an age of about 14 months. After a gestation period of about 270 days usually a singe calf is born, rarely twins. As in many other deer species, the juveniles have a spotted coat.

Did you know?
that, in the 19th century, the Père David's deer survived in a semi-wild state only at the Imperial Park of Beijing where it became exterminated during the Boxer rebellion of 1899-1900? The species could be saved thanks to 18 specimens kept by zoos that were brought together and bred successfully on the Duke of Bedford's property at Woburn Abbeyand eventually could be reintroduced in the area of the old Imperial Park, where they were discovered over 130 years ago.


Name (Scientific) Elaphurus davidianus
Name (English) Père David's Deer
Name (French) Cerf du Père David
Name (German) Davidshirsch
Name (Spanish) Ciervo del Padre David
Local names Chinese: Sze pu shiang
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



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Range China
Habitat Marshlands
Wild population 268 (re-introduced)
Zoo population 890 reported to ISIS

In the Zoo

Père David's Deer


How this animal should be transported

Hard antlers should be removed before transport under proper restraint and, where required, sedation. No deer with antlers in velvet at a stage of growth which could be damaged easily should be transported where there is a risk of injury.

For air transport, Container Note 73 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations, should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Vicki Rosenzweig

Why do zoos keep this animal

The main reason for keeping the Père David's deer is conservation breeding. The Père David's deer was extirpated in the wild allegedly around the end of the Han Dynasty (AD 220), but certainly did not survive later than the 18th century. Still a herd was maintained in the large Imperial Hunting Park at Nan Hai-tsu south of Beijing, where they were discovered for (western) science by the French Jesuit priest Père Armand David in 1865. In the follwoing years a few deer were donated to European governments. As a consequence of a flooding of the Hun Ho River in 1895 all but about 20-30 deer at the Imperial Hunting Park died. The remainder was killed in 1900 during the Boxer uproar. In 1920 the last Père Davids deer in China died at Beijing Zoo.

In Europe, however, a small number Père Davids deer were kept by different zoos in 1900. After the fate of the species in China, became known, the zoo directors decided to save the species and sent all potential breeders - 18 in total - to the estate of the Duke of Bedford. Although only 1 male and 5 females of the initial stock bred, the herd developed well, small groups of animals were distributed to a number of zoos, and eventually an International Studbook was established under the auspices of WAZA (then IUDZG).


In 1956 the first four deer were sent to Beijing Zoo, in 1985 a group of deer was released to the 60 ha Beijing Milu Park, and in 1986 a group of 39 individuals was reintroduced to the Dafeng Reserve in China, a 1,000 ha seasonally flooded coastal marsh site in the Jiangsu Province.


In 1991 a 1500 ha area on the Jangtse River near Shishou was declared a national Milu reserve, and in 1993/94 64 animals from the Beijing Milu Park were transferred to the new reserve. By the end of 2005, the total number of Père David's deer in China exceeded 1300 animals. As the current ex situ population exceeds 1000 and many animals are kept under semiwild conditions, the International Studbook was given up.

Because of its history and its anatomical peculiaritities the Père David's deer is also of great educational value.