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Deer

Axis and Pere David's Deer

The Axis deer (or Chitals) were natives of India, they were lovely dappled animals. In the wild they are a favourite prey for tigers. Even with predators, as here, life was not entirely peaceful, at least for the bucks. They, when their antlers were free of velvet, would occasionally fight over dominance and mating rights. But such active rivalry was rarer than in many deer because the breeding and likewise the antler development of these tropical forest deer was non-seasonal and non-synchronised. In any case the females and any young deer were usually quite unconcerned by the male jousting and continued to quietly browse among the bushes.

The remarkable Pere David Deer, named after the French missionary-naturalist who (thanks to some judicious bribing of royal guards) was able in 1865 to climb the wall of the vast Imperial Hunting Park near Peking and become the first westerner to observe them.

That they are unusual deer is reflected in their old Chinese name, ssu-pu-hsiang , meaning " like, yet unlike, four " - i.e. horse, ox, deer and goat.

The stags would sometimes grow a second pair of antlers in one year.

These deer are a famous example of a species saved from extinction entirely by captive breeding, through the foresight and determination of the then Duke of Bedford in the years following 1895. Pere David's deer had become extinct in China at the beginning of the 20th century. The present world population is descended from the Duke's one-time herd of eighteen animals.

Now, more than sixty collections maintain this species. At one time maintained in a studbook, they are now felt to be sufficiently numerous and out of danger, only to require monitoring by number.

In 1986, 39 Pere David's deer, born in five British zoos including Glasgow, were returned by the WWF to China to be gradually re-introduced to the wild. So far this project, which was carefully monitored, seems to have been very successful, and many calves have now been born.

Glasgow Zoopark no longer stock Pere David, or axis deer.

HAMILTON DEER PARK

The first Duke of Hamilton (1606-1649) admired the deer parks he had seen in England and created one at Hamilton in the 1630s, a few miles south-east of Glasgow Zoopark. Such deer parks were rare in Scotland. Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, a cousin, supplied red deer. The Duke gave Sir Colin the wise advice that roe deer had to be captured young because '

we have the experience in England
' that no old ones would live. In 1668 a visitor noted 'great droves of hart and hind with the young roes and fawns in companies of 100 and 60 together'. The Duke's mother had herself kept a tame hind.

The deer suffered in winter so a small enclosure was constructed for them and oats was provided. During the severe winter of 1691/2 three died of starvation. Of course, the deer proved an irresistable temptation to poachers, as well as causing damag to crops and young trees. (see Rosalind Marshall: The Days of Duchess Anne (1973), Collins, London pp 55-6)

See also Roe Buck [poem]