Conservation of Deer


Although numbers of some species of deer are booming, such as the roe deer in Europe and the White-tailed Deer in North America, other species are at serious risk of becoming extinct in the next few decades or even years. There are a number of reasons why it is important to stop these species of deer form becoming extinct. As previously mentioned deer have an important role to play in the ecosystems in which they live. The loss of deer from a habitat could have far reaching effects for the community in which they lived. Some of these endangered species could have a possible useful economic use for man, and be able to be farmed or harvested sustainably. Often these species are more efficient at turning grass into meat than introduced livestock. We should also try to save deer species simply because they are living things that deserve our respect and have the same right to a place on the earth as we do.

The reasons causing some deer populations to decline

There are two main factors driving some species of deer to the brink of extinction. These are a loss of the deer’s natural habitat, and overhunting by man. Some species of deer are extremely adaptable and have managed to colonise the habitats created by man. But many others are not so adaptable and when the habitat in which they live starts to disappear, they begin to disappear along with it. A number of deer species inhabit the often swampy and marshy open grassland areas found close to rivers. These areas have long been favoured by man for agriculture. These areas offer obvious benefits to farmers. The soils around rivers are naturally rich in nutrients washed down from further upstream, and being close to rivers there is a natural source of water and irrigation. These areas are often claimed and cultivated first, in preference to other less fertile areas. Throughout history as the human population has grown their has been an increased demand for these areas for farming, and the local deer population have been displaced. A good example of this is in India, where the Barasingha was once a widespread and fairly common animal, but because of the increasing demand for farmland the areas they lived in close to rivers have gradually been converted in to agricultural land.

Those deer, which live in areas of tropical rainforest, such as many of the Muntjac and some of the Sambar species of deer, have also faced problems with habitat degradation. The areas in which these species are found, such as south east Asia are seeing the largest increases in human population of anywhere on the planet. The large tracts of tropical rainforest are increasingly disappearing because of logging for timber, or to provide valuable farmland. For this growing population Areas that were once too remote to be utilised are now easily accessible with modern modes of transport and technology.

During the previous century overhunting has become a much greater threat to a number of deer species. Before the 19th century it was difficult to catch or hunt deer, and normally hunters needed a great deal of skill and patience to be successful. Deer were mostly caught using primitive traps and snares. The numbers of deer actually caught was low, and hunting had little effect on deer populations. However, with the advent of firearms things changed dramatically. Firearms became increasingly reliable, cheap and unfortunately widespread from the late 19th century. The spread of firearms meant that anyone, even somebody with comparatively little skill could successfully hunt and kill deer. Although patience was still required, firearms made the whole process of hunting much easier and more efficient. Hunting could cause entire populations of deer in a specific location or area to become extinct. A number of species of deer have had there distribution ranges reduced because of hunting, and could face extinction because of it. Although overhunitng is rarely the only factor causing a species to become extinct, when allied with significant habitat loss it can considerable speed the whole process up.

Another factor that damages deer populations is competition from livestock. This is most notable in the South American species of deer that live on the open plains of the Pampas. The Pampas is a large area of open grassland that is ideal for the raising of large numbers of livestock. When the South American continent began to be colonised the area quickly became a centre of beef production. The native species of deer such as the Marsh Deer and the Pampas Deer were quickly forced out of their natural habitat by the new cattle. These species have survived by retreating to the margins of the grasslands, where they can avoid competition from cattle.

How to help Deer Conservation

There are a number of things that can be done to stop the endangered deer species from becoming extinct. Firstly, it is important that there is adequate information about each species. Little is known about many deer species, especially many of the muntjac which live in remote difficult to reach locations and a number of which have only recently been discovered. It is obvious that without knowing how an animal lives, or how many there actually are it is impossible to help it. Research into the threatened species of deer should be of prime importance.

Captive breeding can be used to save species from extinction. There have been notable successes, most famous of all with the Pere Davids Deer. The problem with captive breeding is that it is difficult to do and is very expensive. Sometimes it will fail for no obvious reason, the species simply not adapting to living in captivity and being unable to breed. Deer can be notoriously tricky to domesticate and habituate to life in captivity. Captive breeding should only really be considered when there is really no other alternative and the species looks as though it will become extinct very soon. Captive breeding of animals is one thing, but re-introducing them back into the wild is another, and poses a whole new set of problems. It is no use captivity breeding animals if there is nowhere for them to go or live.

A much better idea is to protect the habitat in which the deer lives. Not only is the deer saved form extinction but all the other species of animal, plant and insect that live with it are also saved. This is usually done by the specific government of the country where the deer lives, but may also be done by a large nature conservation organisation that buys the land and provides the resources to buy and run a successful nature reserve.


© Mark Walker 2005