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Chinese water deer

Chinese water deer are not native to Britain; they were brought over from northeast China in the early 1900s and kept in Whipsnade Zoo and Woburn Park in Bedfordshire. Several individuals escaped and successfully populated the surrounding area. Chinese water deer are the only British deer species not to have antlers. Instead, the males have large canine teeth that can grow up to 6cm in length and are used to fight off other males that enter their territory. During the summer, they have light chestnut fur, which turns pale grey in winter. Chinese water deer are active both day and night and often spend much of their time grazing. They remain alert at all times and rely on their sensitive hearing, smell and sight to detect any danger. They are solitary and territorial, and generally only form groups in winter, during the rutting season.

Shoulder height: 50 – 55cm
Weight: 11 – 15kg
Lifespan: Up to 11 years


Mating occurs between November and December and a single litter of 2 – 6 young is born the following May or June. The young fawns are able to stand up after about an hour and spend most of the next few weeks hiding in vegetation. The young have a darker, chestnut coat with rows of white spots on their back. They are weaned by the time they are two months old.


Mainly grasses, sedges, rushes, and leaves, but also willow and bramble.


Most commonly found near reed-beds, swamps, marshes, rivers and streams.


The adults have no natural predators in Britain but young animals are sometimes killed by foxes, and occasionally by stoats and crows.


Road traffic accidents; cold, wet winters; and hunting

Status & conservation

Non-native, uncommon and local

Population size & distribution

England, 1,500 (a further 600 are confined to parks). They are absent from the rest of Great Britain and Ireland. Populations are present in East Anglia, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Avon, and have probably increased in size in recent years. These populations may represent a tenth of the world population.

Did you know?

Water deer can smell humans up to 100 metres away and will move off even if they haven’t seen the person. They sometimes run like hares, flinging their hind legs up very high behind them.

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