Milu (Sp), Davidshirsch (G), Cerf du Père David (F).
Named for its European discoverer, French missionary and explorer Père Armand David. In China, called mi-lu or ssu-pu-hsiang. The latter means "the four unlikes, that is, with the tail of an ass, the hoofs of a cow, the neck of a camel, and the antlers of a stag" (G. M. Allen).
DESCRIPTION (male) Shoulder height 45-47 inches (114-119 cm). Weight 330-440 pounds (150-200 kg). Females are smaller.A rather large deer with a very long tail, a mane on neck and throat, and large, spreading hoofs like those of a caribou. Summer coat is reddish with a dark dorsal stripe, changing to iron-gray in winter. The antlers are large and most unusual, with the main beam rising upward from the forehead, a long tine pointing backward, and a multitude of other tines growing in a fairly regular pattern. The antlers would seem useless as weapons, as there are no forward-pointing tines, but males do use them for fighting.
BEHAVIOR Père David deer are known only in captivity; however, it seems they originally may have lived in swamps and reedy marshes. They are essentially grazers, supplementing their diet with water plants in summer. Males and females are in mixed herds for half the year, but adult males form separate herds for two months before and two months after the breeding season, which begins in June in the Northern Hemisphere. During the rut, females form smaller territorial groups, and a male will join each group for a period of time and will defend it against rival males. (Males use antlers and teeth in fighting, and also rise on their hind legs and "box" with their front hoofs.) In a process that continues until the end of the rut, males are successively ousted from their harems and replaced by others. One or two fawns are born the following April or May. Potential life span is about 20 years.
DISTRIBUTION Private properties in England and continental Europe.Besides Europe, they have been introduced in the United States and Argentina, and have been reintroduced in China.
REMARKS Although extinct in the wild for perhaps 2,000 years, captive deer were kept at the Imperial Hunting Park at Nan-Hai-Tze near Beijing, China, where they were observed by Père David in 1865. Most of these deer escaped through holes in the wall following a flood in 1894 and were eaten by starving peasants. The rest were disposed of by foreign troops in about 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. But prior to this a few animals had been shipped to zoos in Europe, and in 1898 a pair reached the Duke of Bedford's estate at Woburn Abbey, England, and bred. By the end of World War I the Woburn herd (now numbering 50) represented the total world population of this deer. The herd increased rapidly after the war, its surplus forming the nucleus for other herds throughout the world, including reintroductions in China. The 1980 international zoo yearbook listed 801 Père David deer living in 94 zoos and collections.A unique and interesting deer that is collected rather than hunted. As with all captive populations, the surplus animals must be harvested, and the hefty trophy fees are needed to offset the landowners' expenses in feeding and protecting these rare animals.