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Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Cervidae
          Subfamily: Cervinae
            Genus: Elaphurus

Elaphurus davidianus

      Pere David's deer, Milu


Elaphurus davidianus [Milne-Edwards, 1866].  
Citation: Ann. Sci. Nat. Zool., 5:382.
Type locality: China, Chihli, Pekin, Imperial Hunting Park.

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 180-190 cm / 6-6.3 ft.
Shoulder Height: 120 cm / 4ft.
Tail Length: 50 cm / 20 in.
Weight: 135 kg / 291 lb.

The summer coat is ochre to reddish tan in colour, and has the unique feature of having long wavy guard hairs throughout the year.  In winter it becomes woolier, changing to duller grey, with the undersides a bright cream colour.  Along the shoulders and down the spine is a darker stripe.  The unusually long and slender head has large, expressive eyes and small, pointed ears.  The skin around the eye and the lips are light grey and the neck has a throat mane in males.  The legs are long, and the hooves are relatively long and slender - and adaptation to walking on soft, marshy ground.  The donkey-like tail ends in a black tuft.  The simple antlers are found only in males.  Unique among deer, the antlers have a main branched anterior segment, with the tines extending backwards.  Another strange feature of the antlers is that there may be two pairs per year.  The summer antlers are the larger set, and are dropped in November, after the June-August rut.  The second set, if they appear, are fully grown by January, and are dropped a few weeks later.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 270-300 days.
Young per Birth: 1, rarely 2
Weaning: At 10-11 months.
Sexual Maturity: At 14 months.
Life span: 18 years.

Ecology and Behavior

Since this deer is extinct in the wild, all behavioral observations noted here come from captive populations.  Unlike most deer, the Pere David's deer is very fond of water.  They swim well, and will spend hours wading up to their shoulders.  The Duke of Bedford once recorded that he has seen young stags playing in deep water more in the manner of seals than deer.  During the breeding season, stags fast as the spar for the right to mate.  When fighting, males not only use their antlers and teeth but also rear up on their hind legs and 'box'.

Family group: Single sex and/or maternal herds.
Diet: Mainly grasses, though water plants may be eaten.
Main Predators: Presumably originally leopard.


Because of its fondness for water and its elongated hoofs, scientists assume that the Pere David's deer originally inhabited swampy plains in northeast China.

Conservation Status

Pere David's deer is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN (1996).


The Chinese call this deer "sze pu shiang" which means something to the effect of 'none of the four'.  This odd name refers to this deer's supposed ownership of the neck of a camel, the hoofs of a cow, the tail of a donkey, and the antlers of a deer, though it is not completely like any one of these animals.  "Milu" is the Chinese name for the sika deer (Cervus nippon), although Milne-Edwards believed that the Pere David's deer was called it.  Elaphos (Greek) a deer; oura (Greek) the tail: refering to the relatively long, donkey-like tail.  Pere Armand David (1826-1900) was a French Jesuit missionary and keen naturalist in China.

Native to China, these deer were easily hunted in their wild habitat of open plains and marshes.  The wild herds kept diminishing until the last known wild individual was shot in 1939 near the Yellow Sea.  However, their extinction was avoided by the Emperor of China, who had installed a large herd in his Imperial Hunting Park (Nan Hai-tsu Park) near Peking.  While almost extinct in the wild, the deer thrived in the park, surrounded by a 72 kilometer / 43 mile long wall and guarded by a Tartar patrol.  The French missionary Pere Armand David had wandered around and wondered about the contents of this secretive park, as strangers were forbidden to look inside.  However, on May 17, 1865, Pere David convinced the guards to allow him to look once over the wall.  As luck would have it, a herd of these deer happened to walk by at that very moment - a moment which would amaze both the missionary and the scientific world.  After many vain efforts, Pere David was able to obtain two complete skins of the new animal (which he believed to be a new species of reindeer), which he took to Europe, enabling Milne-Edwards to provide the first scientific description of the Pere David's Deer.  After incessant diplomatic trials, three living deer were donated to the French ambassador in Peking by the Emperor.  Although these deer did not survive the strenuous trip to Europe, Milne-Edwards' report had created a desire for these deer in Europe, and since the Emperor had given some to the French, he could hardly deny a gift to the English and Germans.  Several pairs were subsequently successfully sent to Europe, where they multiplied readily.  The approximately two dozen deer in Europe, as well as the large herd remaining in China seemed to ensure the survival of the species.  However, in 1895 catastrophic floods devastated China, and with the floods, an old part of the wall surrounding the park was destroyed.  The animals in the park were either swept away by the floods, or if they escaped safely, were hunted and killed by the starving Chinese.  Only 20-30 deer survived in the park after the catastrophe.  Yet they to were to die five years later.  During the Boxer rebellion, troops occupied the Imperial Park and killed and ate every deer without exception.  When the destruction of the Chinese herd became known, several European zoo directors decided to send all of their breeding Pere David's deer to the Duke of Bedford's Woburn Abbey.  A total of 18 animals reached this deer-lover's park, of which one stag and five hinds eventually bred.  The population increased to around ninety animals, at which point World War I threatened to annihilate the rescue attempt.  The population was subsequently reduced to fifty animals due to a food shortage.  However, by 1946 the population had increased to 300, at which point World War II created more food difficulties.  Since the herds were also threatened by bombing nearby, the Duke of Bedford decided to spread out the breeding population, and in 1956 four deer were sent to the Peking Zoo, despite political resistance.  By 1970 over 500 animals resided at Woburn Abbey alone, with others held in breeding centres throughout the world.  To complete the rescue mission, in 1986 22 deer were flown from Woburn Abbey to Peking, where, after a lengthy quarantine, they were released in the area of the old Imperial Park, where they were discovered over 130 years ago.  The last step - reintroduction to the wild - has yet to be taken, although a forest preserve has been selected for this purpose not far from where the last wild animal was shot.

Literature Cited

Boitani, L., and S. Bartoli. 1982. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Mammals. New York: Fireside/Simon & Schuster, Inc. Entry 368.

Butzler, W.  1990.  Pere David's deer (Genus Elaphurus).  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Edited by S. P. Parker. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 161-164.

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991.  Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition).  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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