The Chinese water deer is found in the lower Yangtze Basin of east-central China and in Korea. The species was also introduced and became wild in England and France (Butzler, 1990; Allen, 1940).
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
The Chinese population was originally found in Jilin and Liaoning provinces in the northeast of the country, in the eastern Yangtze Basin and islands at the mouth of this river, and in the southeast of the country in northwestern Guangdong, southern Hunan and central and eastern Guangxi (Ohtaishi and Gao 1990). According to Hu et al. (2006) it is now restricted in China to the central portion of that distribution in the eastern Yangtze Basin, and populations in northeastern and southeastern China are now extinct.
Currently, the species' distribution in both Koreas may be substantially reduced, but little specific information is available. It is reported as being "relatively widespread" in the Republic of Korea (N. Moores pers. comm., 2008), particularly along the west coast. It apparently remains relatively widespread in the lower-lying parts of DPR Korea, but assessing the true status is confounded by repeated reports of widespread and frequent releases of captive-bred stock. It is unclear at what levels these occurred in the past; since the mid-1990s they are likely to have been only at low, if any, levels in all except a few high profile areas. It is possible that Chinese stock have been included in the captive populations within DPR Korea, although this has not been confirmed (J.W. Duckworth in litt. 2008).
Chinese water deer are relatively small in size, ranging in length from 775-1,000 mm. They have a short tail, 60-75 mm length. The hair is generally thick and harsh. It is longest on the flanks and rump, with a maximium length of 40 mm in the winter coat. The top of the face is grayish and reddish brown, the chin and upper throat are whitish, and the back and sides are usually a uniform yellowish brown, finely striped with black. The underparts are white. Both sexes lack antlers, but the upper canine teeth, especially in the males, are enlarged, forming fairly long, slightly curved tusks. These saber-like upper canines are the most conspicuous feature of the bucks. Theyprotude up to about 52 mm from the upper jaw and constitute sharp, dangerous weapons. The canines of the female are much smaller, scarcely 5 mm on the inner side. A dark spot on the sides of the lower lip behind the upper canines makes the canines more conspicuous. A small scent gland is present on the face in front of the eyes on both sexes; this is the only known case of such glands in the Cervidae (Nowak, 1991; Butzler, 1990; Allen, 1940; Brown, 1991).
Range mass: 12 to 18.5 kg.
Average mass: 12.9 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Chinese water deer live among tall reeds, rushes along rivers, and in tall grass on mountains and cultivated fields. They also inhabit swampy regions and open grasslands. They are adept at hiding, and any cover seems sufficient to give them shelter. Although not adverse to water and swamps, they prefer drier land. When the the cultivated fields that they occupy are cut, they may be found lying in the furrows and hollows of open fields (Butzler, 1990; Allen, 1940; Wilson, 1993; Brown, 1991).
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest
Habitat and Ecology
Other than during the mating season, it is in general a solitary species; stable pairs or small groups have been reported in places with high population densities. The rut, in England, starts in late November and extends through December and occasionally into January. From May to July, females will deliver litters of up to six fawns although the most common figure is only from one to three). Offspring mortality is high, with up to 40% of juveniles dying during their first four weeks.
The diet of the Chinese water deer includes reeds, coarse grasses, vegetables, and beets. The Chinese water deer has a four chambered stomach, but the rumen pillars are poorly developed. Because of this the deer cannot digest the carbohydrates from plant material very efficiently. Thus the deer must select foods low in fiber but high in soluble carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Chinese water deer are highly selective feeders, taking herbs, forbs, and young sweet grasses, rather than the coarser and more fibrous vegetation of mature grasses (Nowak, 1991; Allen, 1940; MacDonald, 1987; Putnam, 1988).
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
adult of Lipoptena cervi ectoparasitises Hydropotes inermis
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: wild: 12.0 years.
Status: captivity: 11.5 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The mating of the Chinese water deer is seasonal. In China mating occurs from November to January, and most young are born in late May and June. In the European zoos, mating usually occurs in May. Estimates of the gestation period range from about 170 to 210 days. Females are said sometimes to give birth to up to eight young at a time, more than are produced by any other kind of deer. In a survey of zoos, however, it was found that there were usually only two offspring per birth or occasionally three. After gestation, the female gives birth, often leaving her normal range and becoming solitary. The calf remains concealed for the first few weeks, emerging only when the mother visits to suckle it. Like many deer, the young animals have a camouflaged coat with light spots in parallel longitudinal lines. This pattern disappears with age. Lactation lasts several months, and thus the female deer are occupied with one or another aspect of reproduction for most of the year. In contrast, males contribute nothing to the rearing of their offspring. For a few weeks prior to the mating season the males compete for access to receptive females.
Males reach sexual maturity at 5-6 months, and females at 7-8 months. The lifespan of the Chinese water deer is about 10-12 years (Butzler, 1990; Allen, 1940; Nowak, 1991; Wilson, 1993; Ohtaish and Sheng, 1993; Brown, 1991; Putnam. 1988; MacDonald, 1987).
Range number of offspring: 6 (high) .
Range gestation period: 6 (low) months.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 1042 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.7.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 183 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Hydropotes inermis
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Hydropotes inermis
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
In the wild, the Chinese water deer is heavily hunted. Although it is not classified as an endangered species, there recently were estimated to be only 10,000 individuals remaining in the wild in China (Butzler, 1990). IUCN -- Rare.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Rare(IUCN 1990)
Water deer occur in the Republic of Korea and it said to be "moderately widespread", particularly along the west coast, as well as within the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas (Kim and Cho 2005), but its population cannot be estimated.
Within China, Ohtaishi and Gao (1990) estimated fewer than 10,000 individuals in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River; 1,200-1,500 in coastal areas of Jiangsu; 600-800 in the Zhoushan Islands of Zhejiang; and 1,000 in the Poyang Lake (Jiangxi) region. More recently, Sheng (1998) estimated 500-1,1000 in the coastal areas of Jiangsu (see also Xu et al. 1998), 1,500 in the Zhoushan Islands, around 1,000 in the Poyong Lake region, and an additional ~ 500 individuals in Anhui.
Hu et al. (2006) present a map showing a considerable reduction in the current distribution of H. inermis compared with its known, historical range, and describe population declines of the species as "drastic". Their map suggests that the species no longer occurs in Jilin, Liaoning, Hebei, Shaanxi, Shandong, Henan, or Fujian provinces, and has become rarer in Hubei, Hunan, and Zhejiang provinces. However, the time period over which this range reduction is not known with any precision. Hu et al (2006) also provide data suggesting that H. inermis in the eastern-most (and densest) populations within China in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces retain a relatively high amount of genetic diversity, although populations on the Zhoushan archipelago displayed some divergence from those on the mainland. Within Yancheng Nature Reserve, their geographic distribution decreased and became markedly more fragmented between the 1980s and 2001 (Zhu et al. 2004).
In Yancheng Nature Reserve, poaching is reported as severe, and there is high mortality during periods of flooding. Fawns have been bought from local people to establish and support the captive population, where the mortality rate is reportedly high (Zhang 1994). Water deer have evidently been reduced or extirpated in most of the reserve, remaining only in the relatively small core area (Xu et al. 1998, Zhu et al. 2004).
Habitat loss through reclamation for agriculture and urban development is a major threat to water deer in eastern China (Xu et al. 1998). Formerly widespread areas of appropriate habitat north of the Yangtze River delta have been lost and the remaining areas fragmented, leaving remaining populations of water deer vulnerable.
The Korean populations, at least in DPR Korea, are highly threatened by habitat loss, on the assumption that wild population will not persist in fully agricultural landscapes. It is reported, however, to be "moderately widespread" at least in the Republic of Korea. In DPR Korea, agricultural policies have led to a large-scale land rezoning programme which involves the canalisation of streams, removal of damp hollows and generally the conversion to active farmland of all areas within the plains which have retained semi-natural vegetation to date. This programme is ongoing. Coastal habitats have so far fared better but there are ambitious plans for the reclamation of large proportions of the intertidal areas on the west coast, and this will involve major loss of the currently extensive suitable habitat present in natural coastal plains. With no empirical information on the use of purely agricultural regions by water deer in Korea, the precise effects of these ongoing and planned habitat changes are unclear; field study is required. Ground-dwelling mammals in DPR Korea are under heavy snaring pressure, at least in forest areas. The extent of snaring in the non-forest habitats occupied by this species and the effects of snaring on local populations are unclear. The situation in the lower Chongchon plain, an area with high human population densities and heavy conversion of plains land to agriculture (although retaining a largely natural coastal zone and channel profile for the river itself) suggest that either snaring levels are not so high in these areas or water deer are resilient to them (J.W. Duckworth in litt. 2008).
This species occurs in Poyang Lake Nature Reserve and Yancheng Nature Reserve, where around 1,000-1,500 animals are present in isolated subpopulations, each with less than 100 animals (Xu et al. 1998). However, nature reserve designation at Yancheng has evidently not prevented continued habitat loss and fragmentation (Zhu et al. 2004, Zhang et al. 2006a, b). Poyang Lake Nature Reserve has a management plan and is regularly patrolled. A small captive population has been established in Yancheng Nature Reserve, but the justification for this is unclear (Zhang 1994, Hu et al 2006)
Recommended conservation actions in China include:
1. Poyang Nature Reserve: Enlarge the reserve and improve its protection. The reserve covers only a small part of H. inermis? range in the Jiangxi region, and it is recommended that this be increased in size and that protection be extended to nocturnal patrols when the majority of poaching takes place.
2. Yancheng Nature Reserve: Establish habitat corridors to link small, isolated populations.
3. Strengthen existing protected areas management: increase staffing levels and improve communications and equipment supply; introduce anti-poaching patrols; develop community-based management strategies and an education program in response to human encroachment and poaching; and introduce training program for reserve staff in wildlife management techniques.
4. Create new protected areas (only a small proportion of the total population is currently protected).
In the Koreas, measures are needed to control poaching and to provide extensive areas of secure habitat for the species.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The Chinese water deer often comes into conflict with man when they eat his crops. They may also be pests of commercial forrestry (Putnam, 1988; MacDonald, 1987).
In the wild, the Chinese water deer is heavily hunted in order to obtain colostrum, which is sold for use in folk medicine. Colostrum, milk characterized by high protein and antibody content, is secreted for a few days after the deer gives birth. Also, thousands of Chinese water deer are sold as food each year in Europe (Allen, 1940; Webster, 1994).
The water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is a small deer superficially more similar to a musk deer than a true deer. Native to China and Korea, there are two subspecies: the Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis inermis) and the Korean water deer (Hydropotes inermis argyropus). Despite its lack of antlers and certain other anatomical anomalies—including a pair of prominent tusks (downward-pointing canine teeth), it is classified as a cervid. Its unique anatomical characteristics have caused it to be classified in its own genus (Hydropotes) as well as its own subfamily (Hydropotinae). However, a study of mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences placed it near Capreolus within an Old World section of the subfamily Capreolinae. Its prominent tusks (elongated canines), similar to those of musk deer, have led to both being colloquially named vampire deer in English-speaking areas to which they have been imported.
Habitat and distribution
Water deer are indigenous to the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, coastal Jiangsu province (Yancheng Coastal Wetlands), and islands of Zhejiang of east-central China, and in Korea, where the demilitarized zone has provided a protected habitat for a large number. They inhabit the land alongside rivers, where they are protected from sight by the tall reeds and rushes. They are also seen on mountains, swamps, grasslands, and even open cultivated fields. Water deer are proficient swimmers, and can swim several miles to reach remote river islands. Chinese Water Deer are now located in France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, Argentina, and even some in the United States.
Chinese water deer were first introduced into Great Britain in the 1870s. The animals were kept in the London Zoo until 1896, when Herbrand Russell oversaw their transferral to Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. More of the animals were imported and added to the herd over the next three decades. In 1929 and 1930, 32 deer were transferred from Woburn to Whipsnade, also in Bedfordshire, and released into the park. The current population of Chinese water deer at Whipsnade is currently estimated to be more than 600, while the population at Woburn is probably in excess of 250.
The majority of the current population of Chinese water deer in Britain derives from escapees, with the remainder being descended from a number of deliberate releases. Most of these animals still reside close to Woburn Abbey. It appears that the deer’s strong preference for a particular habitat – tall reed and grass areas in rich alluvial deltas - has restricted its potential to colonize further afield. The main area of distribution is from Woburn, east into Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and North Essex, and south towards Whipsnade. There have been small colonies reported in other areas.
The British Deer Society coordinated a survey of wild deer in the United Kingdom between 2005 and 2007 and noted the Chinese water deer as "notably increasing its range" since the last census in 2000.
The species is not native, but a few small deer farms in the southeastern United States have successfully bred water deer.
|Body Length||Shoulder Height||Tail Length||Weight|
|75–100 cm||45–55 cm||6-7.5 cm||9–14 kg|
|2.5-3.3 ft||18-22 in||2.4-3 in||20-31 lbs|
The water deer has narrow pectoral and pelvic girdles, long legs, and a long, graceful neck. The powerful hind legs are longer than the front legs, so that the haunches are carried higher than the shoulders. They run with rabbit-like jumps. In the groin of each leg is an inguinal gland used for scent marking; this deer is the only member of the Cervidae to possess such glands. The short tail is no more than 5–10 cm / 1.9–3.8 in. in length and is almost invisible, except when it is held raised by the male during the rut. The ears are short and very rounded, and both sexes lack antlers.
The coat is an overall golden brown color, and may be interspersed with black hairs, while the undersides are white. The strongly tapered face is reddish brown or gray in color, and the chin and upper throat are cream colored. The hair is longest on the flanks and rump. In the fall, the summer coat is gradually replaced by a thicker, coarse-haired winter coat that varies from light brown to grayish brown. Neither the head nor the tail poles are well differentiated as in gregarious deer; consequently, this deer's coat is little differentiated. Young are born dark brown with white stripes and spots along their upper torso.
The water deer have developed long canine teeth which protrude from the upper jaw like the canines of musk deer. The canines are fairly large in the bucks, ranging in length from 5.5 cm / 2.1 in. on average to as long as 8 cm / 3.2 in. Does, in comparison, have tiny canines that are on an average of 0.5 cm / 0.2 in. in length.
The teeth usually erupt in the autumn of the deer’s first year at approximately 6–7 months of age. By early spring the recently erupted tusks reach approximately 50% of their final length. As the tusks develop, the root remains open until the deer is about eighteen months to two years old. When fully grown, only about 60% of the tusk is visible below the gum.
These canines are held loosely in their sockets, with their movement controlled by facial muscles. The buck can draw them backwards out of the way when eating. In aggressive encounters, he thrusts his canines out and draws in his lower lip to pull his teeth closer together. He then presents an impressive two-pronged weapon to rival males. It is due to these teeth that this animal is often referred to as a "vampire deer."
Apart from mating during the rutting season, water deer are solitary animals, and males are highly territorial. Each buck marks out his territory with urine and feces. Sometimes a small pit is dug and it is possible that in digging, the male releases scent from the interdigital glands on its feet. The male also scent-marks by holding a thin tree in his mouth behind the upper canines and rubbing his preorbital glands against it. Males may also bite off vegetation to delineate territorial boundaries.
Water deer use their tusks for territorial fights and are not related to carnivores. Confrontations between males begin with the animals walking slowly and stiffly towards each other, before turning to walk in parallel 10–20 m / 32–64 ft. apart, to assess one another. At this point, one male may succeed in chasing off his rival, making clicking noises during the pursuit. However, if the conflict is not resolved at the early stage, the bucks will fight. Each would try to wound the other on the head, shoulders, or back, by stabbing or tearing with his upper canines. The fight is ended by the loser, who either lays his head and neck flat on the ground, or turns tail and is chased out of the territory. Numerous long scars and torn ears seen on males indicate that fighting is frequent. The fights are seldom fatal but may leave the loser considerably debilitated. Tufts of hair are most commonly found on the ground in November and December, showing that encounters are heavily concentrated around the rut.
Females do not seem to be territorial outside the breeding season and can be seen in small groups, although individual deer do not appear to be associated; they will disperse separately at any sign of danger. Females show aggression towards each other immediately before and after the birth of their young and will chase other females from their birth territories.
Water deer are capable of emitting a number of sounds. The main call is a bark, and this has more of a growl tone when compared with the sharper yap of a muntjac. The bark is used as an alarm, and water deer will bark repeatedly at people and at each other for reasons unknown. If challenged during the rut, a buck will emit a clicking sound. It is uncertain how this unique sound is generated, although it is possibly by using its molar teeth. During the rut a buck following a doe will make a weak whistle or squeak. The does emit a soft pheep to call to their fawns, whilst an injured deer will emit a screaming wail.
|Gestation Period||Young per Birth||Sexual Maturity||Life Span|
|180–210 days||1-7||Does: 7–8 months||10–12 years|
|Commonly 2-5||Bucks: 5–6 months|
During the annual rut in November and December, the male will seek out and follow females, giving soft squeaking contact calls and checking for signs of estrus by lowering his neck and rotating his head with ears flapping. Scent plays an important part in courtship, with both animals sniffing each other. Mating among water deer is polygynous, with most females being mated inside the buck's own territory. After repeated mountings, copulation is brief.
Water deer have been known to produce up to seven young, but two to three is normal for this species, the most prolific of all deer. The doe often gives birth to her spotted young in the open, but they are quickly taken to concealing vegetation, where they will remain most of the time for up to a month. During these first few weeks, fawns come out to play. Once driven from the natal territory in late summer, young deer sometimes continue to associate with each other, later separating to begin their solitary existence.
- Harris, R.B. & Duckworth, J.W. (2008). Hydropotes inermis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 8 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of vulnerable.
- Grubb, P. (2005). "Order Artiodactyla". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 671. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Randi, E.; Mucci, N.; Pierpaoli, M.; Douzery, E. (1998). "New phylogenetic perspectives on the Cervidae (Artiodactyla) are provided by the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 265 (1398): 793. doi:10.1098/rspb.1998.0362.
- "Deer distribution Chinese water deer 2000—2007". bds.org.uk. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
- "Los Angeles Zoo and botanical Gardens - Chinese Water Deer". Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- Paine DE (2012-04-28). "World’s deadliest golf course boasts land mines, vampire deer". Dateline Zero. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
- Harris P, Levy A (2009-04-01). "Deer savages dogs - and no, this is not an April Fool joke". MailOnline (London: Daily Mail and General Trust).
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