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Hydropote à la Réserve zoologique de la Haute-Touche © MNHN - F-G Grandin

Water deer

The water deer, Hydropotes inermis, is the only Cervid that doesn’t have antlers. Instead, it has long canines that protrude from the upper jaw, and which are used as real combat weapons.


Class, order & family :

Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae

Genus :


Species :


Lifespan :

12 years

Height and weight :

50 cm at the shoulder, 18 kg at the most

Gestation :

6 to 7 months, 1 to 3 babies, sometimes as many as 6 to 8!

Natural habitat :

Marshy areas, wet plains, reed beds

Diet :

grasses, reeds

Native region :

China, Korea

IUCN status: 

VU, vulnerable

Way of life

The water deer, sometimes called the vampire deer, lives in wet areas where it feeds on aquatic plants and, being a strong swimmer, swims from small island to small island.

A solitary creature, males defend their territory from any rivals, particularly during the rut, only tolerating the presence of females.

Unlike other Cervids, which have one or even two fawns per litter, the water deer can have as many as six to eight babies! However, infant mortality is high, with more than 40% of newborns dying in their first month.

Distinguishing features

The water deer is the only Cervid that does not have antlers. Its reddish-brown coat darkens in the winter.

Males have long canines that they use during clashes with their rivals. These fangs can measure up to 10 cm, 5 cm of which protrudes from the upper jaw! The females’ canines are a lot shorter.


With its canines, it resembles the Eumeryx, the first Cervid, which lived in Asia 30 million years ago.

The main causes of the water deer’s decline in its natural environment are poaching and habitat destruction, which splits up their territories. It is sought after for its meat, but also for milk, which is taken from the fawn’s stomach and used in traditional medicine. There is an urgent need to create reserves and corridors to connect isolated populations.

The water deer was introduced into English parks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since then, these populations have steadily increased and some escapees have colonised the surrounding wetlands.

In the 1960s, several water deer from a park formed a small and discreet wild population in Limousin, France.

Hydropote à la Réserve zoologique de la Haute-Touche © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Hydropote à la Réserve zoologique de la Haute-Touche © MNHN - F-G Grandin