Cervidae: Deer Family

Deer are a group of hoofed mammals that are found across the Northern Hemisphere. They belong to the Cervidae family of mammals. In form and habit, deer resemble the horned antelopes of Africa, which are actually more closely related to sheep and cattle. However, instead of horns, deer grow antlers. In most species only males have them, and unlike horns which remain for life, antlers are shed annually.

There are about 40 species of true deer, distributed over North and South America, Europe, northwest Africa and Asia. Found in habitats ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, deer are slim long-legged, elegant herbivores.

Grey Brocket Deer

(Mazama gouazoupira)

Size: 85 - 105 cm (33.5 - 41.5 in). Height at shoulder 30 - 60 cm (12 - 24 in)

Weight: 17 kg (37.5 lb).

Grey brocket deer, or brown brockets, range from southern Central America to northern Argentina and Uruguay. They occupy dry, open habitats such as chaco thorn scrub and savannahs. These deer are slightly smaller than red brocket deer, which are found in the same region but occupy more heavily forested habitats. Grey brocket deer eat fruits in the wet season, but make do with leaves and twigs during the dry season. When water is hard to come by, they feed on cacti and other succulent plants that store water in their flesh. The deer also dig up roots used by plants to store water and nutrients. Male grey brocket deer have small antlers, little more than 10 cm (4 in) spikes. They breed all year round, and males only need to renew their antlers every couple of years.

Red Brocket Deer

(Mazama americana)

Size: 72-140cm (28.5 - 55 in). Height at shoulder 67 - 76 cm (26.4 - 29.9 in)

Weight: 8 - 25 kg (17 - 55 lb).

Red brocket deer range from eastern Mexico to northern Argentina. They have whorls of hair on their faces and stout bodies covered in reddish-brown hair. The males have simple, spike-like antlers. Red brockets live in woodland and dense forest. They may be active both day and night, feeding on grasses, vines and the new shoots of plants. These shy deer tend to freeze when they spot danger, blending into the thick vegetation.

Chinese Water Deer

(Hydropotes inermis)

Range: China, Korea; introduced in England.

Habitat: River banks with reedbeds and rushes, grassland, fields.

Size: Body: 30 1/2 in – 3 1/4 ft (77.5 cm – 1 m); Tail: 2 1/4 – 3 in (6 – 7.5 cm).

The only true deer to lack antlers, the Chinese water deer has tusks, formed from enlarged upper canine teeth; these are larger in males than in females. Both male and female have small scent glands on each side of the groin and

are the only deer to possess such glands. A nocturnal animal, this deer usually lives alone or in pairs and rarely gathers in herds. It feeds on reeds, coarse grass and other vegetation.

Males contest in fierce fights for dominance in the rutting season before breeding. After a gestation period of about 6 months, the female gives birth to 4 young — this is the largest litter produced by any deer.

Chinese Muntjac

(Muntiacus reevesi)

Range: S.E. Ch ina, Taiwan; introduced in England and France.

Habitat: Dense vegetation, hillsides; parkland in introduced range.

Size: Body: 31 1/2 in – 3 1/4 ft (80 cm – 1 m); Tail: 4 1/4 – 7 in (11 – 18 cm).

The anders of the male Chinese muntjac are small, rarely exceeding 6 in (15 cm) in length, but this deer also has tusks. The Chinese muntjac lives in a territory, which it rarely leaves, and it prefers to stay hidden in the cover of vegetation. It lives alone or in pairs and seldom forms herds. Primarily nocturnal, it may be active in the morning in quiet, undisturbed areas. It feeds on grass, low-growing leaves and shoots.

In dominance contests during the rutting season, males fight with their tusks, rather than their antlers, and make doglike barking noises. The female usually gives birth to 1 young after a gestation period of about 6 months.

Pampas Deer

(Ozotoceros bezoartieus)

Range: South America: Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, N. Argentina.

Habitat: Grassland, open plains.

Size: Body: 3 1/2 – 4 1/4 ft (1.1 – 1.3 m); Tail: 4 – 6 in (10 – 15 cm).

Pampas deer once lived only in pampas grass, but now much of this land is used for agriculture and the deer may frequent woodland. The male has antlers and glands in the feet which give off a garlicky smell, noticeable over 1/2 mile (1 km) away. In winter, the deer live alone or in pairs. In spring they may form larger groups. They rest in cover during the day and emerge in the evening to feed on grass. Some races are now rare, due to hunting and loss of habitat. The male stays with the female after her 1 offspring is born and helps her to guard it.

Water chevrotain

(Hyemoschus aquaticus)

Size: 45 – 85 cm (17.75 – 33.5 in); 7 – 15 kg (15.5 – 33 lb).

The water chevrotain is a small African hoofed animal that lives south of the Sahara, from the coast of Sierra Leone to western Uganda. Chevrotains look like small deer but they actually form a separate group of hoofed animals, most of which live in Asia. Neither sex grows antlers, although males grow tusks. These are long upper canines that stick out of the mouth and extend to below the lower lips. The tusks are a feature shared with the muntjac deer of southern Asia, and may be primitive features now lost by most deer species. Water chevrotains are forest browsers. They are never more than 250 m (820 ft) away from a river. By day they stay hidden in undergrowth, but under the cover of darkness chevrotains come out into the open and feed in forest clearings and along river banks.


(Hippocamelus antisensis)

Size: 1.4-1.65 m (4.5 - 5.5 ft). Height at shoulder 69 - 77 cm (27 - 33 in).

Weight: 45 - 65 kg (99 - 143 lb).

Huemuls live in the rugged hill country high in the Andes of Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. They have coarse coats and black Y-shaped face markings. Huemuls spend the summer grazing on grasses and sedges in high alpine meadows. In winter, they climb down to lower altitudes. Mating takes place in the dry winter season, and fawns are born at the end of the rains.