Chinese Water Deer
Scientific Name: Hydropotes inermis
The Latin name for this small deer means “unarmed water-drinker” because it’s the only deer species in which the male doesn’t have antlers. Instead, they have curved, sharp upper canine teeth extending up to three inches from their mouth. Oddly, these tusks can move in their sockets, enabling the animal to move them out of the way to eat but also allowing him to thrust his canines out to become effective weapons while fighting.
Except during the breeding season, these deer are generally solitary but may form small family or male bachelor groups. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are active primarily at dawn and dusk, and will hide in dense vegetation during much of the day. They are strong swimmers and can paddle between islands seeking food or shelter.
STATUS: The Chinese water deer is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Heavily hunted in the wild for its meat and colostrum, milk secreted by a female deer shortly after giving birth and used in folk medicine, the animal also faces habitat loss due to encroaching agriculture and aquaculture.
HABITAT: Formerly widespread in eastern China, the Chinese subspecies of water deer now lives primarily in the lower Yangtze River Valley, coastal Jiangsu Province, and Zhejiang islands. The Korean subspecies is thought to live in fragmented areas throughout the peninsula. As their name implies, these deer are commonly found in well-vegetated river valleys and lake shores, wetlands, and coastal plains where tall reeds, rushes and grasses provide them with food and shelter. There is also a sizeable population that was introduced into deer parks in France and England, some of whom escaped and established feral populations.
DIET: The Chinese water deer has a four-chambered stomach that is under-developed so it must eat tender, easily-digested herbs, shoots, young leaves, grasses and reeds.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: This deer’s coarse, thick hair is golden-brown in summer and dull brown in winter, interspersed with black hairs, while the undersides are white. It has a compact body, long neck, powerful hind legs longer than its front legs, and a stumpy tail. The animal’s shoulder height is 17 to 21 inches, it’s 30 to 39 inches long and weighs 24 to 30 pounds with females weighing slightly less than males. Fawns are dark brown with white stripes and spots which break up their outline and provide camouflage. This deer’s life span is about 10-12 years after a gestation period of 180 to 210 days.
Male Chinese water deer are very territorial and will fight with any rival that wanders into its turf. Males mark their territories with feces and urine and may bite off vegetation to show boundaries. Fights consist of bucks standing shoulder-to-shoulder and swinging their heads with their sharp canines at their rivals in an attempt to bloody the necks, shoulders, and back of their competitors. The loser will either lay his head and neck on the ground or turn and run.