Did you know that, according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, there are 43 species of deer in the world? No, neither did I!. We get so used to our own environment that, whilst we knew there would likely be more than the six wild species of deer we are lucky to have here in the UK, imagining that there were 37 more species out there might take a big leap of imagination. To be clear, when we refer to deer we are actually talking about deer from the family Cervidae from the Order Artiodactyla. There are a few animals that closely resemble deer such as the Mouse and Musk Deer but they are actually part of different families and orders.
Out of our six species, only two are native - the red and roe. Our others come from more exotic climates. Sika for example originate in east Asia, Muntjac from southeast Asia, CWD from east central China, with the Fallow being closer to home in Europe.
Interestingly, there are only two continents without any native deer species. I can understand Antartica being one, but Australia is the other. Unsurprisingly there are a plethora of articles demonising deer in Australia now and they are cited as one of the most prevalent pest species. Being classed as ‘invasive’ by ‘conservationists’ certainly isn’t a label an animal is keen to bear!
Out of the 37 other species, most are flourishing (through good management and protection) although some of those inhabiting swamp or islands are unfortuantely endangered. All deer tend to live in similar habitats where food is most likely. As a result deserts and dry grasslands are not the place to plan your next hunt! Think of locations with lush nutrient filled vegetation, along with locations offering shelter and protection from view and you are likely to be more successful. Deer are divided into two different groups, Old and New World. Originally these titles were bestowed due to where the deer originally evolved but more recently it is assigned based on the structure of the feet. Old World deer, including Muntjacs, no longer have a second or fifth bone in the hand. New World deer, such as Roe, have distal remnants of these bones.
The largest deer still alive today is the Alaskan Moose, with the smallest being the Pudu. There are two species of Pudu, the northern and southern (sounds like England!), and they stand between 12 to 17 inches at the shoulder. The newly born fawn is a tiny 6 inches high. If you compare that to the whopping 2.1m at the shoulder for the Alaska Moose then there couldn’t be a more diverse range for species from the same family!
If you are looking to hunt, and eat, one of each species it might just take you a while. If you do, please let us know how they compare taste wise!