Head & Body Length- 190 to 200 cm
Shoulder height- 120 to 130 cm
Tail length- 10 to 12 cm
Weight- 130 to 140 kg
The Thorold’s Deer is also known as the White-lipped deer. This is because of the distinctive white markings found on its head. The muzzle is all white in colour, and the eyes have distinct white-eye rings. Further patches of white fur are found on the throat and chin. The Thorold’s deer is a large animal, and is one of the largest of all the deer species. The legs are long and slender, and the head short. The ears are long and narrow, and in females have a short tuft of white hair. The hooves are large and broad, enabling them to climb easily through rough terrain. The dewclaws are well developed.
Thorold’s deer have a dark brown coloured upper coat. The under parts and the inside of the legs is a paler whiter colour. During the winter months the coat is paler in colour, and is roughly twice as long as the summer coat. The hair on the back lies in the opposite direction to the rest of the fur and gives the back a rather raised and ruffled appearance.
Only males carry antlers. Mature males typically have antlers with a total of 6 tines, although some animals may have antlers with as many as 10 tines. The antlers grow forwards but are carried fairly low and flattened on the male’s head. They can grow to a maximum length of 130 cm, and each antler can weigh as much as 7 kg. The antlers of Thorold’s deer are unusual in that they have a creamy white colour, unlike the more typical brown or black seen in the antlers of most other deer.
Distribution and Habitat
The White Lipped Deer is found across Tibet and parts of adjoining China. Populations have fallen heavily mainly because of over hunting. Many of the deer’s body parts are used in oriental medicine and the deer is killed by Chinese hunters who can earn a lot of money by catching the deer. Another problem the deer faces is habitat loss. The IUCN classifies them as being vulnerable. There are about 100,000 remaining animals in the wild.
They live on the high mountain slopes of the Himalayas and surrounding areas. They prefer habitats that have a mixture of forest and open clearings. They are often found in areas of Rhododendron forest. They occur at altitudes above 3500 metres. Although they are found over a fairly large range area, there distribution is patchy because suitable habitat is also patchily distributed.
Thorold’s Deer have a maximum lifespan of 18 to 19 years of age, although few reach this in the wild.
They feed mainly on grasses and herbaceous plants found in the mountain habitats in which they live.
The mating or rutting season takes place in the autumn between October and December. At this time of year the male and female herds that have lived separately for much of the previous year join together. Reported herd numbers at this time of year are reported as being between 50 and 300 animals. Males compete with each other for access to females, using their antlers in contests to decide which male is strongest and should get to breed with a receptive female. During the rut the males expend a lot of energy and quickly lose condition. Males have a distinctive rutting roar.
A single fawn is born in the following spring in May or June after a gestation period of between 260 and 280 days. Sometimes twins are born but this is uncommon. The young become mobile soon after birth, being able to walk and run only half an hour after being born. They soon begin to accompany their mother’s herd. The young are suckled for 10 months before becoming fully independent. When they reach independence males join the male bachelor herds while the females remain in the mothers herd. Sexual maturity occurs quite late in this species, at 3 years in the females, males are not strong enough to breed until they are 4 years plus.
This is a social animal, living in small herds of up to 30 animals. The sexes are segregated with the males living separately from the females and the young animals. Older males are more solitary in behaviour. Thorold’s deer are mobile in habits, continually moving around in the search for food in the bleak habitats in which they live. They are good climbers, happy in rough and mountainous areas. They are wary of man, and so are difficult to observe in the wild. They are mostly active in the day, feeding in the early mornings and late afternoons. In China this species is being increasingly farmed and kept in captivity.