The muntjac deer

David Chapman / 18 January 2012

The muntjac deer, Muntiacus reevesi, is the smallest deer found in Britain but it isn’t a native species as it originated from China and India

Muntjacs were first established as captive breeding animals at Woburn, Bedfordshire, in the late 19th century; they soon escaped captivity, started to breed in the wild and have spread rapidly. They are now found south of a line between North Wales and the Humber Estuary with isolated pockets elsewhere. They are commonest in the south midlands and East Anglia. It is estimated that their current population is around 40,000 and that they are increasing at a rate of 10% per annum.

They are proving to be very successful animals in the British countryside and this is partly due to their breeding rate. Since muntjacs are native to sub-tropical parts of the world they are not seasonal breeders, instead they breed approximately every seven months, raising a single fawn each time. Females reach maturity in less than a year and can live to be 15 years old.

Our native deer are often hunted because they are large enough to yield a worthwhile supply of meat but muntjacs are very small, standing to a height of only 50cm to the shoulder (the height of a springer spaniel), and aren’t valued for their meat so in Britain the muntjac doesn’t have any effective predators.

Muntjacs stay well hidden, usually living in the dense undergrowth of woodland and large gardens where they eat leaves of ivy, bramble, coppiced trees as well as fruit, nuts and seed. Often the only signs of muntjac deer are the damage they cause to shrubs through grazing and the noises that they make. Muntjacs are also known as barking deer because they have a very loud harsh bark which they use to find mates and they also make various clicks and screams when alarmed.

With a good view it is relatively easy to identify a muntjac. Males have upper canine teeth which project from their mouths like tusks and single spiked antlers which are shed in summer. Their coat is chestnut, greyer in the winter, with an area of white on their underside. Both male and female have dark lines on their faces and below the eyes have large scent glands, with which they mark their territory by rubbing against posts and branches.

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