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Sika Deer Fact File

Cervus nippon

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

35-55kg

(77-120lbs)

Length

0.9-1.4m

(3-4.75ft)

Lifespan

Wild 15-18 years

Captive 15-18 years

Diet

Herbivore

Leaves, Fungi, Herbs

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The sika deer is a large species of deer with a spotted coat which was originally found across parts of east Asia but has been introduced to over 77 countries globally.

These animals are herbivores and both browse and forage. They will take grasses, leaves, fungi and herbs. One sign of their presence in a habitat is the removal of large patches of bark from a tree.

Females give birth to a single calf each year. Males will fight for breeding rights with the female during a period known as the rut. The pair on antlers on top of the head are used during these fights.

Across their range this species has been threatened by habitat loss and hunting. In some areas they are now considered extinct.

Read on to learn more about these majestic mammals.

Appearance

What does the sika deer look like?

The sika deer is colored red-brown across most of its body. This is patterned with spots which are white during summer but may become almost black during winter. On the rump are some white hairs which are flared.


Males and females are sexually dimorphic meaning their appearance is different. The male will develop a shaggy mane on the neck and has a pair of narrow antlers on his head.


The antlers are covered by a coating of velvet. This is rubbed off by the male against a tree trunk revealing the antler below. Males in their prime can have up to eight points on their antler.


Antlers are developed and then lost each year. Males lose their antlers in March and develop them again before the next breeding season.

At the end of their body is a short tail of between 12 and 20cm (4.75-8in) long.

An average sika deer will measure 0.9-1.4m (3-4.75ft) long with a weight between 35 and 55kg (77-120lbs). They stand 0.8m (2.5ft) tall. Males are larger than females.

Diet

What does the sika deer eat?

Sika deer are herbivores. They will feed on grasses, brushy vegetation, herbs, fungi, twigs and buds. These animals may feed on cultivated crops such as soybeans and corn.

In summer they appear to favor grasses turning to browse during winter.

One sign of their presence in a habitat is the bark being stripped from the lower portion of tree trunks as they feed on it.

Sika Deer

Credit: Public Domain

Range

Where can you find the sika deer?

The sika deer is a resident of Asia. Here they are currently known from China, Russia and Japan. They have been reintroduced to the island of Taiwan after going extinct there. From a once wide range they have been reduced to small isolated populations.

The species is thought to be extinct in Vietnam, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea.

They have been widely introduced globally mostly for use in hunting. Populations of this species are now established in Armenia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Czechia; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Ireland; Lithuania; Madagascar; New Zealand; Philippines; Poland; Ukraine; United Kingdom and the United States.

These animals are kept on farms in a number of countries both in their range and outside.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the sika deer live in?

These animals can be found in woodlands and forests. They preference habitat which has a dense understory but move in to more open areas to feed.

In areas where they have been introduced they are recorded from freshwater marshes and grasslands showing an ability to survive in a wide range of habitats.

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Reproduction

How does the sika deer produce its young?

During the rutting (breeding) season the male will use his horns to fight other males. This allows them to gain access to a group of up to 14 females.

Breeding occurs in autumn beginning in September.

Females will give birth to a single calf after a 7 month gestation period. On rare occasions they may give birth to twins.

Mothers will provide milk to their calf for the first 10 months of life. The young may stay with their mother for up to a year.

Sexual maturity may be reached at 1 year old but is more commonly achieved by two years old.

This species has been recorded to reproduce with red deer to produce a hybrid.

Behavior

What does the sika deer do with its day?

These animals are highly vocal. They will produce up to ten different sounds which may include a soft whistle or a scream.


They are active by night when they will emerge to feed. In winter they may become increasingly active by day due to the need to feed.

Sika deer move around in herds of females and their young. Males are brought in to these herds during the breeding season.

Across their range they undergo two molts. One takes place at the start of winter and the other at the start of summer. The winter molt takes 2-4 weeks while the summer takes 3 months. The eldest deer tend to molt first.

They are successful swimmers and will enter the water to escape predators.

Sika Deer

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the sika deer?

Natural predators of the sika deer include tigers and wolves.

If threatened their natural reaction is to attempt to flee. If this is not successful they can use their horns and strong kick for defense.

No formal estimated of the population has been made. Their number is thought to be increasing across their natural range due to conservation efforts such as their reintroduction to parts of their former range. They also benefit from large introduced populations globally.

Across their range they continue to face threats such as habitat loss and hunting. Hunting takes place for sport, meat and their antler velvet which is also used in traditional medicine.

The fragmentation of their population has increased fears that their populations will become inbred.

Releases of red deer from farms in their range has led to the creation of hybrids risking the genetic purity of the species.

Competition with introduced species such as goats is another threat.

In introduced areas of their range they are often viewed as a pest they will destroy crops.

Quick facts

These animals are also known as the spotted deer, Japanese deer, sika elk or Asian elk.

The male sika deer is known as a stag and the female as a cow.

In Japan this species has long considered sacred.

Sika Deer

Credit: Public Domain

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Trust, W., 2021. [online] Woodland Trust. Available at: <https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/mammals/sika-deer/> [Accessed 20 November 2021].

The Mammal Society. 2021. Species – Sika Deer – The Mammal Society. [online] Available at: <https://www.mammal.org.uk/species-hub/full-species-hub/discover-mammals/species-sika-deer/> [Accessed 20 November 2021].

Chesapeakebay.net. 2021. Sika Deer | Chesapeake Bay Program. [online] Available at: <https://www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/sika_deer> [Accessed 20 November 2021].

Japanvisitor.com. 2021. Japanese Sika Deer | JapanVisitor Japan Travel Guide. [online] Available at: <https://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-nature/japanese-deer> [Accessed 20 November 2021].

Tsusinvasives.org. 2021. details. [online] Available at: <http://www.tsusinvasives.org/home/database/cervus-nippon> [Accessed 20 November 2021].

Harris, R.B. 2015. Cervus nipponThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41788A22155877. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T41788A22155877.en. Downloaded on 21 November 2021.

Landesman, N. 1999. "Cervus nippon" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 20, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cervus_nippon/

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