Reeve’s Muntjac deer – are they really a pest?

Photo: two Reeve's muntjac deer having a munch in Thetford forest, by Alicia Hodson.

Photo: two Reeve’s muntjac deer having a munch in Thetford forest, by Alicia Hodson.

Miniature deer, with fangs, that bark like a dog?… Reeve’s Muntjac deer sounds like something out of a fantasy world!

This species of Muntjac deer originated from southeast China and Taiwan, where they are widespread, feeding on roots, shoots, and grasses. Thanks to human interference, they are now widespread in Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the unsuspecting British Isles. The earliest record of their introduction to the UK is from Woburn Park in 1894, where they were used as ornamental animals. Following this, more were introduced to a number of other parks and private estates throughout the UK, and have since then escaped or been released into the surrounding environment and established wild populations. Unlike most species of deer, they breed all year round. They can be seen during the day, but they are most active at dawn and dusk.

 

Some people believe they’re a pest in Britain and should be culled, as they disturb areas of woodland and gardens by digging up those juicy roots and shoots. There are actually many people who believe all deer are pests in the U.K., because there are no natural predators controlling their population size and therefore there are lots of footprints, scuffed trees, and nibbled leaves and bark. From my own personal conversations with local wildlife authorities and enthusiasts, I have gathered that the people who think they’re a pest tend to enjoy hunting, or care a peculiarly large amount about what their gardens look like… The real damage occurs in areas of woodland being managed for the conservation of endangered species, such as in coppicing sites. As the shoots of the regenerating forest emerge, deer may feed on them and prevent the regrowth of valuable flowering plants. The result: a failed coppice site, and potentially decreasing the population size of already vulnerable species that rely on this kind of habitat.

 

Despite the fact that muntjac deer are the oldest known species of deer, there is a significant lack of information gathered about them. In my opinion, to label an ancient, and largely unstudied, species as a pest, which has little known direct impact on human or environmental health, is a brash statement. They are beautiful, timid, curious creatures, making the most of the lush U.K. countryside where they didn’t exactly choose to settle…

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Alicia Hodson

Alicia Hodson

BSc (Hons) Zoology graduate from the University of Bristol, former long-term volunteer keeper for the Bug World department of Bristol Zoo, and currently doing voluntary conservation work with the Essex Wildlife Trust. Main passions in Entomology. Absolute naturalist.
Alicia Hodson

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