Pére David's Deer Elaphurus davidianus

Head & Body Length- 140 to 230 cm
Shoulder height- 130 cm
Tail length- up to 60 cm
Weight- Males up to 200 kg, Females up to 115 kg.

Physical Appearance

Pére David’s Deer have a fascinating and unusual history, becoming extinct in the wild in their native home, but being saved due to captive breeding by a British Aristocrat. The Pére David’s Deer was discovered by western science in 1865. The Jesuit Priest and famous French biologist, Armand David, was visiting China, and heard about an unusual animal kept in the Emperors private garden known as the Forbidden Palace, to which there was no access. He bribed some guards and was able to study the animals, which he thought was a type of Reindeer and which subsequently were named after him. These animals had already become extinct in there natural home in the wild, and only survived in the emperors private collection. Some years later the Chinese Emperor gave a small number of the deer as a present to France, Germany and Britain. Although the deer in France and Germany soon died out, the British animals fell into the hands of the Duke of Bedford, who kept the animals on his Woburn estate. Here the animals thrived and a successful herd remains to the present day. However, the animals did not fare so well in there native home, becoming extinct in the Forbidden Palace in 1939. Other herds were established using animals from the Woburn herd, and now Pére David’s Deer are a common zoo and park animal. Some have been returned to China.

As well as having an unusual story, Pére David’s Deer are also an unusual and strange looking species of deer. They have been described as being a mixture of a number of different animals in the past, reflecting there unusual mixture of features. The head is long, while the neck is short. There is often a thick mane of hair around the neck and shoulders. The legs are rather long, and give it a rather lanky and ungainly appearance. The tail is long and has been described as being ‘donkey like’. As well as its unusual stature, the antlers are also unlike those of any other species of deer, most easily described as being ‘back to front’. The antlers point backwards. They are short but strong looking, with two distinct shafts. They have several tines. The antlers are cast from October to December, and new ones begin to grow straight away, taking 6 months to reach full size. On the head of the Pére David’s Deer are very prominent pre-orbital glands. The coat is a brown colour during the winter months, and is reddier in the summer. The hooves are wide and widely sprayed, and like the Reindeer as the animal moves they make a loud clicking sound.


Originally the Pére David’s Deer was found across a large area of western and northern China. However, because of habitat loss and over hunting it became extinct in the wild. Today it is found only in parks and zoos, and does not occur in the wild.


Pére David’s Deer was originally an inhabitant of marshy and swampy areas of land, being found close to rivers and other forms of water. It preferred areas with thick undergrowth where it could hide and retreat from danger. Its wide hooves allow it to move easily over soft and muddy ground. The areas in which it lived began to disappear as Chinas population grew and more land was drained for agriculture. Luckily it adapted well to living in captive herds, and is now often kept in open woodland areas or parkland environments.


The rut occurs relatively early, taking place in June and July. Males leave the herds prior to the beginning of the rut, and then try to collect together small harems of females, which they compete over. Pregnancy lasts about 270 days, with normally one or two calves being born in May. The calves are a brown colour, with numerous white spots.


They have a lifespan of up to 25 years.



Except for during the rutting period, Pere David’s Deer live in large mixed sex herds. These herds are led by a few dominant animals, which decide where the deer will herd or where it will go. They have no fixed territories. The exact behaviour of Pere David’s Deer in the wild in unknown, what little is known being seen in captive herds.