Elaphurus davidianusPere David's deer

Geographic Range

The historic range of E. davidianus was northeastern and east-central China (Nowak, 1999). Truly wild specimens disappeared from the area sometime around 200 A.D., but because a captive herd was maintaind in the Imperial Hunting Park, the species has survived.


Historically, E. davidianus were probably found in the lowlands of China, swampy areas and reed-covered marshlands (Nowak, 1999). Today they survive in the wild in two national parks: Beijing Milu Park and the Dafeng Milu Natural Reserve. This species can also be found in captivity in many zoos around the world.

Physical Description

E. davidianus has reddish to deep reddish brown summer pelage with a medial black stripe down the shoulders. Winter pelage is grayish brown with darker areas on flanks and throat. Both sexes have a dark tail tassel on their relatively long tail. The skin between the hooves is naked (Nowak ,1999).

Pere David's deer range from 1,830 to 2,160 mm from head to the base of the tail. The tail adds another 220-355 mm. Male E. davidianus weigh about 214 kg and females about 159 kg. Males have antlers that are shed annually in December or January (Nowak, 1999). New antlers immediately begin growing and reach full size by May (Huffman, 2001). Antlers are around 55-80 cm along the curve and fork close to the skin (Harper, 1945). The long hind prong is very straight, and the front prong branches off with the prongs facing backwards. Males also have a maned throat (Nowak,1999).

Immature E. davidianus are spotted white with an average birth weight of about 11 kg (Nowak ,1999).

  • Average mass
    186500 g
    6572.69 oz
  • Range length
    1,830 to 2,160 mm
    to in


See Reproduction.


Males engage in mock combat and real fights during the rut. A male joins a group of females which he thus defends from other males. Stags lose weight rapidly because they don't eat while they defend the harem, and they are succeeded by new stags as the rut continues. After leaving the harem, the male begins to feed again, and will quickly regain his weight.

Sexual maturity for females is about 2 years and 3 months (Nowak, 1999), and males mature about a year later. About two months before breeding season in June, males will leave the herd. They will rejoin a harem of females and fast during the rut. When fighting, males will use antlers, teeth, and will even rise up on hind legs and box with their front legs. Females have an approximately 20 day long estrous cycle (Nowak, 1999), and within a breeding season can have multiple cycles. The gestation period is about 280 days and one or two fawns are born in April or May (Jiang et al., 2001). Fawns weigh about 11 kg at birth. After the rut, males will leave the herd again for another two months and begin feeding (Brinklow,1993).

Development in species has not been reported. The gestation period is unusually long, however, and an embryonic diapause may occur (Nowak, 1999).

  • Breeding season
    Young are born in April and May.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    9.33 months
  • Average gestation period
    288 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    27 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    821 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    27 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1186 days

As in all mammals, the female provides the young with milk.


The maximum longevity record is 23 years and 3 months. Average life span is about 18 years (Huffman, 2001).


Unlike many deer species, Pere David's Deer is very fond of water. They will wade up to their shoulders in the water and will also swim. These herding animals are very social. They live in large groups except prior to and following mating when males will leave the group. Females remain in social groups throughout the year (Huffman, 2001).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

E. davidianus are herbivores and their diet consists mainly of grasses. During summer they will eat many aquatic plants (Nowak, 1999).

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves


Because there are no real wild populations of this species, information on predation is not available.

Ecosystem Roles

It is difficult to assess the ecosystem role of such a rare animal. Historically, at least, these deer were probably important in maintaining habitats through their foraging behavior. They probably also provided food to predators.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This species is farmed for food and can also be found in hunting parks.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

None cited

Conservation Status

E. davidianus is critically endangered by the IUCN.

Other Comments

The name that the Chinese gave these deer was "sze pu shiang". This means “none of the four.” The deer supposedly has a neck like a camel, a tail similar to that of a donkey, antlers of a deer, and hooves similar to a cow. However it didn’t resemble any of them more than the other (Harper, 1945).

In 1865, Père Armand David, a French missionary, discovered the deer in the Imperial Hunting Park (Nan Hai-tsu Park) near Peking they were believed to be the only surviving members of the species. About a dozen individuals from this group were imported to Europe. In 1894, a flood destroyed the Imperial Hunting Park and much of the herd was killed. Those that did survive were hunted by starving citizens during the Boxer Revolution in 1900. The Duke of Bedford gathered the remaining breeding population of 18 deer at his abbey in Europe and began to increase to population. During WWII the herd was moved because of the fear of extinction due to bombing.

In 1985 Pere David's Deer was reintroduced to the Beijing Milu Park and a second group was released in 1986 in a site north of Shanghi called the Dafeng Milu Natural Reserve (Huffman, 2001). In 1997 an estimated 671 deer were surviving in the wild in China (Jiang et al., 2000).


Erin Jacobson (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Brinklow, B. 1993. Gestation periods in the Père David's deer (Elaphurus davidianus): Evidence for embryonic diapause or delayed development. Reproduction Fertility and Development, 5: 567-575.

Harper, F. 1945. Extinct and Vanishing Mammals of the Old World. Baltimore MD: The Lord Baltimore Press.

Huffman, B. 2001. "Ultimate Ungulate: Pere David's deer, Milu" (On-line). Accessed Nov 29, 2001 at ttp://www.ultimateungulate.com/perdavdeer.html.

Jiang, Z., C. Yu, Z. Feng, L. Zhang, J. Xia. 2000. Reintroduction and recovery of Père David's deer in China. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 28: 681-687.

Jiang, Z., L. Zhang, J. Xia, R. Yang, C. Rao. 2001. Density dependent growth and population management strategy for Père David’s deer in China. Acta Zoologica Sinica, 47: 53-58.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press.