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Sikas du Japon © MNHN - F-G Grandin

Japanese sika deer

The Japanese sika deer, Cervus nippon nippon, is the most common subspecies of the sika deer and its numbers are steadily increasing all over its native island. There is a risk of well-established populations in some French forests hybridising with our red deer.


Class, order & family :

Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae

Genus :


Species :


Subspecies :


Lifespan :

16 years

Height and weight :

85 cm at the shoulder, 60 kg at the most

Gestation :

7.5 months, one baby

Natural habitat :

forested areas

Diet :

grasses, leaves, fruit, lichen, mushrooms, bark

Native region :


IUCN status: 

LC, Least concerned

Way of life

The Japanese sika deer lives in herds made up of females accompanied by their mostly recently born offspring and sometimes offspring from the previous year. Males tend to be solitary but may group together from time to time. The rut begins in autumn. Males establish and mark out their territory by urinating. They then clash violently, with the losers staying on the sidelines while the alphas take the females to their territory in order to mate.

The Japanese sika deer looks for food between dusk and dawn. Of the 100 or so plants that it consumes, bamboo can account for up to 80% of its food intake.

Distinguishing features

The Japanese sika deer is a small deer with a reddish-brown coat spotted with white in the summer. In winter, the spots disappear and the coat darkens. Only the rump and the tail remain white. The antlers are sparsely branched and can measure up to 60 cm.


Regarded as a protector of the cities and a messenger from the gods, the Japanese sika deer has been considered sacred by the Japanese for several centuries. Imported into Europe, the USA and New Zealand in the 19th century for its antlers, each of these continents has seen several populations escape. Currently, the species is found in the wild, including in France, where it can hybridise with our red deer, leading to serious genetic contamination.

The Japanese sika deer represents a source of hope for other endangered sika species (e.g. pseudaxis, Formosan). By receiving embryos from these closely related subspecies, female Japanese sika deer become surrogate mothers. This assisted production work has been carried out by the team at Réserve Zoologique de la Haute-Touche (Haute-Touche Animal Reserve) who hope that there will be enough births of rare individuals to develop plans for the reintroduction in the coming years etc.

Sikas du Japon © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Sikas du Japon © MNHN - F-G Grandin